2021: Nil Points. Justified or not, the writing’s clearly on the wall for any efforts the UK might make in entering this quasi-‘musical’ version of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. The pan-European competitors had already made it obvious that we were persona non-grata in the immediate years following Tony Blair’s support for the second Gulf War in 2003. Had the Beatles re-formed and written their best ever song they would still have been trounced by some two-chord Scandinavian death-metal outfit in horror masks, or a pair of lycra-clad grandmothers on a trapeze. Still, this annual slap in the face is another of the many ‘benefits’ of Brexit. And let’s face it – if you rejected membership of the EU Brussels club with all the ‘hate Johnny Foreigner’ disdain you could muster, then the bouncers at Club Eurovision are not going to let you in. So, we may have got ‘nil points’ but at least we’ve ‘got our country back’.
What used to be a ‘song’ contest is now just a cabinet of ear-splitting spangled circus acts supported by what appears to be a flag-waving deluge of cretinous patriots. The compositions, in the main, are vacuous formulaic set-pieces. Dramatic, slow tempo opening, then an explosive multitude of sub-Beyonce beats accompanied by fireworks. These songs are so facile that the only way they can be framed is with the inclusion of a quintet of sequined leotard-wearing dancers, each prancing troupe possessing more actual artistic talent than the featured ‘star’. As for the show’s presenters, where, oh where, do they come from? Bizarre, stilted tele-prompted announcements by a trio of shimmering non-entities in dresses which probably cost the price of an Amsterdam houseboat stare vapidly into the camera stunned by the fact that at last, they are actually talking to several million Europeans rather than giving the weather forecast in Minsk or hosting a shopping channel in Romania.
Perversely, the UK is as much to blame for its own Eurovision disasters as any low-scorers. Britain is the country which gave the world Bowie, The Beatles, Stones, Peter Gabriel, The Police, Dire Straits, acts which have filled Europe’s biggest mega-stadiums down the years. The general lingua-franca of the contest is still English. But do we employ the finest, chart-tested composers and performers to represent us? No. We book someone who’s ‘written a song’ and had a bit of often anonymous success, someone mainly unknown who will rarely be heard of again after the usual Brit-kicking debacle.
Since the death of Terry Wogan as our commentator, surely the last great reason to tune in, we now have to rely on the latest tongue-in-cheek Irish wit of Graham Norton. There are flashes of acerbic brilliance, but they are no palliative to the overall bombastic doom of an over-glamorous gathering of mainly one-night stand upstarts who frequently imagine they’re in Los Angeles, not some stately European capital. Yet we’ll keep watching. Not because Eurovision might improve, but for the opposite reason. Sometimes things are so bad we start to imagine they’re good.
I remember walking through Somerton Park, a suburb of Adelaide in South Australia, back in the early 1960s. The mainly residential seaside suburb is home to the Somerton Park Beach, and whilst enjoying a cold beer there that hot day, I had no idea that this was the location of what remains as the most perplexing mystery in Australia’s criminal cold case records; the enduring enigma of the ‘Somerton Man’, or as they refer to him down under, the ‘Unknown Man’.
In an age of high-tech CSI, DNA and advanced forensic science, we like to think we’re pretty clever at solving murder cases. There’s usually a clear motive, a list of potential suspects soon builds up. Was it the wife/husband? Was there a girlfriend/boyfriend? A mugger, a robber? The starting point is usually the identification of the victim. Yet what happens when absolutely no-one knows whose body it is? This is a mystery laden down with curious clues, hints and false leads, none of which provide an explanation or a conclusion.
Perhaps no-one noticed the smartly dressed middle aged man who stepped from the Melbourne train at Adelaide station at 8.30 am on the morning of November 30th 1948. It had been a long journey. He bought a one-way ticket for the 10.50 am train to Henley Beach, but the ticket was never used. He was carrying a small brown suitcase which he deposited in the station’s left luggage room at around 11 am. At 11.15 am he bought a 7d (seven pence) bus ticket outside the station for a bus going to Somerton, but he got off somewhere along the route. Some researchers suggest that he alighted at Glenelg, close to the St. Leonard’s Hotel. Between 7pm and 8pm that night several witnesses claimed to have seen the man. He stopped somewhere to buy a pasty. This much is known so far. Now the mystery kicks in.
December 1st in southern Australia is regarded as the first day of Summer. It was warm on the evening of Tuesday November 30 when a couple decided to take a stroll along Somerton Beach. John Bain Lyons was a local jeweller and as he ambled along the sands in the direction of Glenelg with his wife at 7 pm, 20 yards away (18.22 m) they spotted a smartly dressed man reclining on the sand, his head propped up against the sea wall. He seemed quite relaxed with his legs outstretched and crossed. Mr Lyons had the impression that the man might be drunk, as the reclining figure lifted up his right arm which then fell back down. It seemed as if he may have been attempting to light a cigarette, but abandoned the idea. Half an hour later, a young couple were out for a walk along the Esplanade, and they had a view of the beach from above, and the reclining figure was still there with his left arm laid out across the sand. His shoes were clean and well-polished, his suit looked immaculate, yet it seemed an odd sartorial choice as beachwear. He appeared to be sleeping, but with a swarm of mosquitos around his face, inspiring the young man to comment “He must be dead to the world not to notice them…”
But the man on the beach was in the deepest sleep of all. He was dead. The following morning, when the jeweller John Lyons emerged from the sea after a cooling swim, he was joined by two men and a horse as they gathered around the dead man, still in the same position as Lyons had seen him the night before, legs crossed and outstretched. There was an un-smoked cigarette behind his ear, and a half smoked stub resting on his collar. There were no signs of violence.
Three hours later the body was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where Dr. John Barkley Bennett estimated the man had died, possibly from heart failure, at around 2 am. There was a dramatic twist, when the Doctor announced that he suspected the man had been poisoned. The dead man’s pockets were emptied but did not reveal much. To begin with he had no cash or wallet. What was found were two combs, a box of matches, a pack of chewing gum, a pack of Army Club cigarettes and seven Kensitas cigarettes. But there was another puzzle. Any maker’s name labels or tags in his clothing had been carefully cut away, and one of his trouser pockets had been stitched with orange thread.
The police had no leads as to the corpse’s identity. The local press reported that the man found on the beach was ‘E. C. Johnson’, but Johnson turned up alive on December 3rd. A full autopsy and a post mortem were carried out. John Dwyer, the pathologist, found a quantity of blood mixed with the remains of the pasty in the man’s stomach. Further examination revealed the dead man had unusually small pupils, his liver was distended with congested blood, and the spleen was three times normal size. With these results, suspicions of poisoning arose. Yet no cause of death was found, and expert chemical analysis on the man’s organs revealed nothing. So who was this dead man? At the subsequent Coroner’s inquest, the evidence of one expert, who had inspected the man’s legs and feet, suggested his well-developed calf muscles and oddly shaped, pointed feet hinted that this man may have even been a ballet dancer. The cadaver was preserved with formalin and a cast was made of his bust for future examination. The corpse’s fingerprints were taken and circulated around the world, but with no result.
Christmas 1948 came and went with the Unknown Man resting in the morgue. Then, in January 1949, the suitcase he had left at the railway station was discovered. When police opened it, the mystery deepened. There was a reel of orange thread. Of the few items of clothing, the name tags had been removed, but on three the name ‘Kean’ and ‘Keane’ remained. There was a stencil kit, the kind of thing used to stencil names on packing crates, a coat, stitched with a peculiar feather stitching, and a table knife with the shaft cut down, and six pence. Although the names ‘Kean’ and ‘Keane’ looked like good leads, the police could trace no-one, and the local press suggested that the labels were deliberately left as red herrings. Once again the investigation was stalled.
But the strangest evidence, which would give this case its mysterious title, came when the Emeritus Professor of Pathology at the University of Adelaide, John Cleland, was brought in during April 1949 to examine the corpse. Sewn into the waistband of the trousers was what has been referred to as ‘a secret pocket’. It contained a tightly rolled, small piece of paper bearing the printed words, ‘Tamám Shud’. A reporter for the Adelaide Advertiser, Frank Kennedy, recognised the words as Persian. They were from a popular work written in the 12th century, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. The two words come at the very end of the English translation by Edward Fitzgerald of this popular book of poetry, after the final verse, and mean, literally, ‘It is over’. The slip of paper appeared to have been torn from a book, and the seemingly fruitless hunt for the original copy began. The police began to suggest that this may have been a suicide. But there was much more yet to come.
In June 1949 the body was buried in a plot of dry ground and sealed under concrete, a precaution in case it needed future exhumation. On July 23rd a man from the Glenelg area visited the Adelaide Police station and presented a a very rare first edition copy of Edward FitzGerald’s translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám published in 1859 by Whitcombe and Tombs in New Zealand.. His odd story was that the book had been tossed into the back seat of his car by persons unknown. The torn extract matched the ripped space in the book. The identity of the man who found the book was kept secret, and has remained so. In the back of the book police found five lines of letters written in pencil, and a telephone number. The number was that of a 27 year old nurse who had trained in Sydney’s North Shore Hospital and now lived not far from where the body had been discovered. Soon local media began to refer to the mysterious lines of letters as ‘code’. Was our man a spy?
Attention now focused on the new lead, the nurse. Her real name was Teresa Powell, but was referred to by the media as ‘Jestyn’. She appears to be as mysterious as the rest of the case, as her real name was not revealed until 2002. In 1949, when police interviewed her she gave a false surname, ‘Mrs. Thompson’, although it turns out that she wasn’t actually married. When shown the plaster cast of the deceased man’s bust, she thought that it might be a man she knew called Alf Boxall, yet wasn’t certain, although she claimed she once gave a copy of The Rubáiyát to Boxall at the Clifton Gardens Hotel in Sydney in 1945 when he was serving as a lieutenant in the Water Transport Section of the Australian Army. Apparently she behaved very oddly when questioned, and almost fainted. She need not have worried, because Boxall turned up, very much alive, and he brought his copy of The Rubáiyát, a 1924 Sydney edition, with him. He knew nothing of the dead man and had no connection to him.
The extensive international publicity rolled on as detectives around the globe investigated, but the man remains, to this day, unidentified. Yet as the Cold War developed, the attention focused on the possibility of poisoning, a favourite weapon in espionage circles, and the strange ‘codes’ written in the back of The Rubáiyát. The Adelaide coroner, Thomas Cleland, was informed by an eminent professor, Sir Cedric Stanton Hicks that it was possible that a very rare poison had been used which would have decomposed ‘very early after death’. When Hicks appeared at the court hearing, he stated that the poisons he had in mind were so deadly and secret that he would not speak their names out loud, so jotted them down on a slip of paper and passed them to the coroner. They were digitalis and strophanthin. Hicks suggested the latter as the culprit. It originates from Ouabain, a Somali “arrow poison” which is also named g-strophanthin, poisonous cardiac glycoside. Extracts containing Ouabain have long been used by Somali tribesmen to poison hunting arrows.
So, who was the Unknown Man and was he a spy? At Woomera, they were testing missiles and gathering intelligence. Our man died in Adelaide, which is the closest Australian city to Woomera. Many see this as a connection. It is also possible that he caught his train at Port Augusta, which is much closer to Woomera. Then there is the bizarre pencilled ‘code’ in the back of The Rubáiyát. What does it mean?
Code specialists around the world, including some of the best intelligence experts, even astrologers, have been wrestling with these random characters for decades, so far, without success.
There is still an aura of uncertainty around the nurse, ‘Justyn’ and her relationship with Alf Boxall. It seems that Boxall’s army career may also have involved military intelligence. Justyn died in 2007 and some believe that her real name was kept under wraps as it (or perhaps even her nickname) may have been a key to decryption of the ‘code’. Also, according to a 1978 TV documentary, when she gave Boxall her copy of The Rubáiyát she had written out verse 70:
Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before
I swore—but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
My thread-bare Penitence a-pieces tore.
Just a young, romantic gesture – or something more cryptic?
In 1947, the year before the mystery man alighted in Adelaide, the United States Army’s Signal Intelligence Service was carrying out Operation Venona, during which they discovered that the Soviet embassy in Canberra had been in receipt of top secret information leaked from Australia’s Department of External Affairs. In 1948 U.S. banned the transfer of all classified information to Australia. Spies would have had to work much harder that year.
The more you dig into the murky undergrowth of Tamám Shud the denser the tangled roots become. For example, three years prior to the death of the ‘Unknown Man’ the body of Joseph (George) Saul Haim Marshall, a 34 year old from Singapore, was found in Ashton Park, Mosman, Sydney in 1945, with an open copy of the The Rubáiyát (reported as a seventh edition by publishers Methuen) laid on his chest. It was recorded that he’d committed suicide by poison. However, Methuen only issued 5 editions of The Rubáiyát, so either this was a reporting error or a copy of the NZ Whitcombe and Tombs edition. It may be some kind of synchronicity or simple loose association, but a quick look on Google Earth reveals that Sydney’s Ashton Park is a short walk from Clifton Gardens. It was in Clifton Gardens, just two months after the dead Marshall was found with a copy on his chest that Jestyn gave Alfred Boxall a copy of The Rubáiyát. So who was Joseph (George) Saul Haim Marshall? It transpires that his brother was the famous barrister and Chief Minister of Singapore David Saul Marshall. Joseph Marshall’s inquest was held on August 151945. A woman testified at the inquest. She was Gwenneth Dorothy Graham. Within a fortnight of testifying, she was found naked and dead in a bath face down, with her wrists slit. Omar Khayyám seems to have had a lot to answer for.
Also in 1949, as the Adelaide police were still scratching their heads over the Unknown Man, at Largs North, just 12 miles (20km) along the beach from Somerton, where he’d been found, another bizarre case unfolded. A two-year old boy named Clive Mangnoson was found dead, his body in a sack, on 6 June 1949. It was established that the child had been dead for 24 hours. Keith Waldemar Mangnoson, his unconscious father, was lying alongside him. The man was taken to hospital suffering from exposure and weakness, then ended up in a mental institution. Father and son had been missing for four days. It gets even weirder; the two were discovered by Neil McRae, who said he had established their location in a dream the previous night. As with the Unknown Man, the coroner did not believe the boy had died from natural causes.
Then came the revelation by the boy’s mother, Roma Mangnoson, that she’d been threatened by a masked man who almost ran her down outside her house in Largs North’s Cheapside Street. The man was driving a battered, cream coloured car, saying that “the car stopped and a man with a khaki handkerchief over his face told me to ‘keep away from the police’ or else.'” She believed this to be connected with the fact that her husband had been to identify the Unknown Man at Somerton, who he believed to be someone he had worked with in 1939 named Carl Thompsen. Local dignitaries, including the mayor of Port Adelaide, A. H. Curtis, and J. M. Gower, the Secretary of the Largs North Progress Association received some strange, anonymous phone calls, threatening an ‘accident’ should they ‘stick their nose into the Magnonson affair’. The distraught Mrs. Magnonson was so affected by her meetings with the police that she required subsequent medical attention.
South Australia’s Major Crime Task Force still regard this as an open case. The Unknown Man’s bust is held by The South Australian Police Historical Society, and it contains strands of the man’s hair. Unfortunately, after being embalmed the chemicals used may have destroyed much of the DNA. In any case, a recent request to exhume the body was refused. Witness statements appear to have disappeared from police files, and the suitcase found at Adelaide Station and its contents were destroyed in 1986. There have been approaches from people in Eastern Europe who believe the Somerton man might be one of many missing from the area during the Cold War. But it looks as if we may never know who he was and how he came to die on that beach. So let’s give the last word to our 12th century Persian poet, Omar Khayyám;
‘They change and perish all – but He remains…’ Tamám Shud; ‘It is ended.’
ON LINE: As this is an Internet cause célèbre with dozens of links a simple Google of Tamam Shud will give you all you need.
Feltus, Gerald MichaelThe Unknown Man, Klemzig, South Australia, 2010, ISBN 978-0-646-54476-2.
Greenwood, KerryTamam Shud – The Somerton Man Mystery, University of New South Wales Publishing, 2013 ISBN 978-1742233505
Stephen King frequently refers to this case in his novel The Colorado Kid, which in turn inspired the series Haven.
 By early February 1949, there had been eight different “positive” identifications of the body. Some thought it was a missing stablehand and two men from Darwin thought the corpse was of a friend of theirs, and others suggested he was a sailor or a Swedish man. Police from Victoria suggested the man was from their state, as his the laundry marks were similar to those of dry-cleaning firms in Melbourne. Following publication of the man’s photograph in Victoria, 28 people claimed they knew his identity.
 Retired detective Gerald Feltus interviewed Jestyn in 2002 and found her to be either “evasive” or “just did not wish to talk about it,” He agreed not to disclose her identity or anything that might reveal it. Feltus believes that Jestyn knew the Somerton man’s identity.
 Often mis-named as ‘Stanford Hicks’, Sir Cedric Stanton Hicks came to Adelaide in 1926 after an outstanding student career at the University of Otago in New Zealand, war service and a research studentship at Cambridge. He was appointed Professor of Human Physiology and Pharmacology from 1927, a position he retained until 1958 when he became Emeritus Professor. He was knighted in 1936 for his services to medical science.
 A sufficiently concentrated ouabain dart can fell a Hippopotamus causing respiratory and/or cardiac arrest. Only one creature is immune to its effects; the Galapagos Tortoise.
Inside Story, presented by Stuart Littlemore, ABC TV, 1978.
It is amazing the way football fans rose up in their angry millions to squash the idea of the Super League. It demonstrated that for the mega-rich and politicians, sport exists as a much-appreciated diversion from the real world which they greedily govern and manipulate. However, beyond the so-called ‘beautiful game’, there is much to be angry about, yet Joe Public, fed daily on an increasing diet of deliberate lies, remains comparatively silent.
After four foul-smelling years of Donald Trump’s ‘alternative facts’ one might expect the people of Britain to realize that the mendacity which spewed from the White House could never have traction here. To use a sporting cliché, that ‘wouldn’t be cricket’. But who cares?
We have a Prime Minister who appears not to know how many children he has. He lied when he told us £350 million was paid to the EU every week. He too used football to create his own aura of controversy. In 2003 as a columnist for the Spectator, he was forced to apologise for falsely blaming drunken Liverpool fans for the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, and rubbed salt in that untruth suggesting Liverpool fans were wallowing in their victim status. In the same publication he made up stories with allegations that the EU intended legislation on the shape of bananas, that they were banning prawn cocktail crisps and had plans to introduce same-size “eurocoffins”. He falsely suggested that Turkey was to join the EU, insinuating 80 million Turks could arrive on our shores and cripple our NHS. He waved a vacuum-packed kipper at the Tory Party conference and blamed its packaging on EU regulations as opposed to the truth – they were UK regulations. The ‘fact’ is that he’s in power because the UK public think of him as ‘a character’, a political version of ‘Del Boy’ Trotter, a bit of a lad. That’s why everyone calls him ‘Boris’, rather than the more respectful ‘Mr. Johnson’. He idolizes Churchill, who in reality would have chewed him up and spit him out in disgust.
Politics based on lies is by no means new. 500 years ago, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in his masterpiece The Prince that in political communication, manipulation, callousness and indifference to morality are the road to success. Politics, he wrote, requires ’inhuman cruelty’. Well, we’re certainly receiving plenty of that.
So, if you’re good at making things up, politics might be for you. Remember, it could get you a Baby Bear Sofa for £19,950, an Owl lampshade costing £11,600, a Venus chair, £5,900 and Dianthus wallpaper at only £840 per roll. As Boris reclines on his new sofa, he can relax like Mussolini, Trump and Goebbels. They all knew that lies were the route to luxury.
There are many reasons why writers have dreams. They are often about fulfilment, the acceptance of ideas so precious to your creative energy that you imagine that no-one in the literary/media world can fail to see their commercial viability.
My dream remains unfulfilled after 25 years as a full-time scribe. A screenplay; a movie. There are two projects which always seemed to me to run on solid gold legs. One was a dramatization of my biography of WW1 submarine hero Captain F.N.A. Cromie CB DSO RN (1882-1918), Honoured by Strangers. Submarine warfare, the Russian Revolution, espionage, an illicit love affair and murder – the story has everything. It would make a superb documentary at least. But after 20 years of attempted communication with production companies, directors and studios it seems that my faith and enthusiasm have no value.
The other great failure is the true story of Captain William Kidd (1654-1701). It was my good friend, artist and writer Mark Chamberlain, who shared his enthusiasm for Kidd’s story with me back in 1998. Kidd is remembered today as a pirate, yet his story is more complicated. He was a trough Scottish navigator and extraordinary seaman who fell for the blandishments of the British establishment in the late 16th century when he was hired by a cabal of the high and mighty on both sides of the Atlantic as a privateer, his mission being to attack pirates and arrest them in the Indian Ocean who were causing havoc to the trade of the East India Company. His mission was financed by members of parliament and the governor of New York, but it went spectacularly wrong. With a mutinous crew, no prizes captured, plus Kidd’s fatal attack against one of his crew, resulting in gunner William Moore’s death, that turned his mission on its head. He turned pirate more or less by accident after attacking a rich Mogul vessel, the Quedah Merchant with the intention of taking it and its valuable cargo back to America. But once the news of his activities reached Britain, he was listed as an outlaw. His treasure was never found; he was arrested in New York and shipped back to London for trial, where he was hung at Wapping in 1701. Mark and I completed the first draft of our screenplay entitled Kidd! Late in 1999 and began sending synopses and sample scenes out to various companies. One company, Penumbra Productions in London, invited me down to discuss the project. I recall walking up and down their office acting out various lines of dialogue. Penumbra ‘optioned’ the script for a year while they tried to find finance and a director. Mark and I were over the moon. But nothing happened.
In 2000, I received a phone call from a gentleman at the Greenwich Maritime Museum. They had planned to recreate Kidd’s trial in their Great Hall to mark 300th anniversary of his hanging. They said that they had heard that we had an available screenplay, and that a film company on America’s eastern seaboard were interested. We asked if there were any ‘names’ involved with this; one name came up: Mel Gibson. Naturally, we were extremely excited. So, we sent 2 copies of the script off. After several weeks of waiting, I called the museum and was told that our ‘unsuitable’ script had too much bad language in it. I remonstrated by outlining that these were cutthroat pirate characters, and in any case, Hollywood screenplays by then were replete with the ‘f’ word. But the project died for a while. I then had an idea; why not try and interest a star directly in the story? Kidd was a 50-something Dundee-born sailor who had spent a lot of time in Glasgow. A portrait of him existed in the Captain Kidd pub in Wapping. When Mark and I stood by that painting, we both exclaimed – ‘Billy Connolly’!
We wrote to Connolly’s management, Tickety Boo, sent the script. They said they’d pass it on. We heard nothing, so we decided to track the man down. He was appearing at the Hammersmith Odeon. We booked in a nearby hotel and went to the gig. We waited in the dark by the stage door. When it opened, we were greeted by none other than Billy’s American friend, Robin Williams. We chatted briefly and then Billy came out. We presented him with the screenplay and he was very generous with his time. We talked for perhaps 45 minutes during which he regaled us with stories about his home in Scotland and asked about the character of Kidd “Does he wear those lovely 16th century shirts wi’ the huge floppy sleeves?” We assured him he did. He said he’d check it all out and Mark and I went away and got drunk. Weeks passed.
Tickety Boo got in touch. Billy had too many commitments and they weren’t interested.
Then, in late 2001, a TV documentary appeared; The Quest for Captain Kidd narrated by … Mel Gibson. So; the Kidd project joined the slush pile with Captain Cromie as suddenly cinemas were alive with the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise starring Johnny Depp. We had been told by some media ‘experts’ that like westerns, pirate films were a commercial no-go area. Tell that to Jack Sparrow.
I had one last attempt at a screenplay; Wintercount, a comedy about a dying lottery winner in Hull who wanted to blow his millions by making a western based on the life of Chief Crazy Horse … in Yorkshire. It got close, going back and forth to Ken Loach’s Parallax Films for re-writes, until in the end it fizzled out to nothing.
On April 1 2021 I will be 78. The screenplay dream will die with me. So, for those writers who actually made it onto the screen, I take my battered hat off to you. For the rest of us, ponder on this; the story you think is ‘the one’ is worth a try. But in most cases, if you haven’t the energy or the undiluted desire to waste hopeless hours of creative effort, just write what you know and nothing else.
This is a disturbing notification from the NUJ. That we have come to this fearful plateau in the 21st century tells us much about our rapid slide back to the 1930s. What kind of world, once they’ve killed everyone they don’t like, do these people want? What are their policies? How will they run things? Or are death and torture the only platform they have?
How interesting that an intelligent right winger like Peter Oborne has such an accurate view of the myriad shortcomings of latest Tory Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Sadly, everything that’s wrong about Johnson and his bellowing, incompetent parliamentary enablers only represents the severe tip of a very big and murky iceberg. We can forget politics of the old style, the right vs. left bun fights we last saw when David ‘prick in a pig’ Cameron received his own promised toy from Eton – the steering wheel of UK plc in 2010. There were dark forces gathering over that horizon bearing a distinct whiff of the fate of Weimar in the 1930s. Those forces are now pulling all the strings and their UK stage manager is a man who claims not to be a Tory – Dominic Cummings.
It may outrage the few of us remaining who still have a fading interest in politics to have to endure the daily litany of lies, obfuscation and bile spewed from the front benches. It may further outrage us that Labour leader Keir Starmer’s erudite and forensic questioning of Johnson is met only by meaningless bluster and cacophonous insult. Johnson, Hancock, Raab and Patel (not to mention such calamities as Chris Grayling) are today’s voices delivering nothing less than a malodourous equivalent of farts in a colander. Peter Oborne seems to think that behind the façade of these hedge fund charlatans some form of valid political efficiency still exists. If it does, it doesn’t stand the chance of a California squirrel in a forest fire. To get a handle on what is really happening on a global scale, much of it emanating from the White House, we need to go down into the darkness of the political engine room and see who’s oiling the pistons of power.
Here’s a quote to open the inspection: “Darkness is good: Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.” Step forward the defrocked Breitbart lieutenant and all-purpose antichrist, Steve Bannon. Our own pound shop Goebbels, Dominic Cummings, Machiavellian though he seems, is admired by Bannon. To get a grip on what drives ‘Sloppy Steve’ (as Trump describes him) we have to dig deep to find out where his warped plan for our world comes from.
He is influenced by Fourth Turning theory, outlined in Neil Howe’s and William Strauss’s [RB1]The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy The Strauss–Howe generational theory, postulates that “historical events are associated with recurring generational personas (archetypes). Each generational persona unleashes a new era (called a turning) lasting around 20–22 years, in which a new social, political, and economic climate exists.succeeding generational archetypes attack and weaken institutions in the name of autonomy and individualism, which ultimately creates a tumultuous political environment that ripens conditions for another crisis. ”
Crisis. Something we’re experiencing every day now. A simplified view is that any kind of moral or social progress which makes a headway during a generation can change back into something more barren. An example could be holocaust denial and the rise of the conspiracy theory. What was thought to be fair, reasoned and progressive – facts, truth, for example, can be wiped off the board leaving clear territory for darker ideas and schemes, many of which have historically been tried and tested. Such as fascism. Thus Isaac Asimov’s quote of four decades ago now has grim veracity:
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. The advance of ignorance has as its infantry in the UK the Daily Mail, Express, Sun and Telegraph.
Some of Dominic Cummings’s earlier pre-Brexit quotes, where he suggested that the EU would engender the rise of right wing zealotry seem opposite to Bannon’s, but today he’s the Prince of populism to Bannon’s King. Bannon told journalist Michael Lewis in February 2018, “We got elected on Drain the Swamp, Lock Her Up, Build a Wall. This was pure anger. Anger and fear is what gets people to the polls.” He added, “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.” The Observer reported in 2018 that Bannon said Cummings was “a brilliant guy… I think Cummings is very smart where he puts his efforts. What I like about him is he has the ability to focus on the main things.” He said that Johnson and Cummings had been “very important” to the drive to get the UK out of the EU, which he backed. Bannon has also suggested that by propagating continuous chaos, lies, falsehoods, that this will cause such confusion amongst the electorate that they’ll eventually vote for anyone we tell them to vote for. As Goebbels remarked, “You can’t change the masses. They will always be the same: dumb, gluttonous and forgetful.”
So whatever Peter Orborne worries over, it’s all too late. History will repeat itself, and men like Dominic Cummings will ride triumphant over the bones of democracy. And the much vaunted ‘Rule of Law’? Johnson has already started dismantling that one. And look at this list of Trump acolytes, most of whom are either released or in line for a pardon”
Rick Gates: Convicted.
Paul Manafort: Convicted.
George Papadopoulos: Convicted.
Mike Flynn: Convicted.
Michael Cohen: Convicted.
Roger Stone: Convicted.
Steve Bannon: Arrested.
Donald Trump: Impeached.
Bannon doesn’t seem to figure much in the smudgy ink of the right wing UK media. But he’s there at Cummings’s shoulder. He seeks to unify populist forces in the “Judeao-Christian west”. He thinks Tommy Robinson is the “backbone of Britain” loves European right-wingers Marine le Pen in France and Hungary’s Viktor Orban in Hungary. Bannon intends to become “the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement.” His view of the UK’s departure from Europe matches Johnson and Cummings: “There is one choice: hard out, no deal. It won’t be disruptive. Boris will adapt his policies to become more populist over time”.
Had it existed in the 1930s, could even the global power of Rupert Murdoch have unseated Adolf Hitler? No. Whatever lies ahead for British politics and the electorate, complicated by the disaster of Covid 19, is a barren new order where day by day what we thought of as civility and fairness is blowtorched away by a mendacious cabal of greed merchants and the nepotistic cream of Eton and Harrow. They may not be wearing jackboots, but they can goose-step with the right’s champions. I am glad to be 77 and not able to experience that grim future.
If you’re searching for tangible evidence in the murky fog of conspiracy theories, new world orders and secret societies, facts, figures and names are slippery eels. However, beyond the myths and legends surrounding the Bilderberg Group, the Illuminati and the Freemasons, in the leafy Ivy League enclaves of Yale University there is one perceptible organisation, obsessed with death, the Skull and Bones Society. This secretive group, dating back to 1832, has been populated by some of America’s most influential industrialists, politicians, bankers and presidents, among them George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and the failed presidential candidate John Kerry. Whereas their membership list is no secret, their saturnine rituals, performed in The Skull & Bones Hall, otherwise known as the windowless, red stone Newhaven “Tomb” certainly are. One of the ‘Bonesmen’s’ morbid fascinations has been the acquisition of body parts.
In 1986, Ned Anderson, chairman of the San Carlos Apache tribe in Arizona, led a campaign against the Skull and Bones Society for the return of the skull of none other than the great warrior, Geronimo, who died of pneumonia in 1909. The story goes that in 1918, a group of 6 well-heeled ‘Bonesmen’ stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, robbed Geronimo’s grave and removed the chief’s skull and some bones. According to a centennial history of Skull and Bones by a 1923 initiate, Francis Otto Matthessen, there exists a 1919 log book featuring the skull, which is apparently now displayed in a glass case in the Tomb. Matthessen names the grave robbers, among them one Prescott Bush, the father and grandfather of the U.S. presidents. Over the past decade 20 of Geronimo’s descendants have tried desperately through the U.S. Courts to have the skull returned, but in 2010 Judge Richard Roberts dismissed the lawsuit against Skull and Bones and Yale, saying the plaintiffs cited a law that applies only to Native American cultural items excavated or discovered after 1990.
The sad theft of Geronimo’s remains is just one example of the melancholic fascination with the possession of purloined body parts. In 2009, for a few hours on E-Bay, you could bid for three glass vials containing a dictator’s brain and blood. The initial asking price was 15,000 euros, or £13,000. At the end of World War 2, after being shot with his mistress Claretta Petacci by anti-fascist partisans, Mussolini’s body was strung up on a lamp post by a petrol station near Milan. The Americans, no doubt interested in how the mind of a dictator works, removed his remains and kept the interesting bits. Mussolini’s wife, Rachaele, expressed her horror in her memoirs, and in 1966, America returned part of the former Duce’s brain to his widow. Yet the macabre story didn’t end there. Forty-three years later, Mussolini’s granddaughter Alessandro discovered what was left of her granddad being peddled on E-Bay and the auction was abruptly aborted.
ANNE BOLEYN’S HEART
You could drive through Erwarton in Suffolk and hardly realise you’d been there. The village, in the parish of Babergh, 14km south of Ipswich on the Shotley peninsula has a population of just over 100, and a pub, The Queens Head, which closed in 2009.
Yet like many seemingly insignificant villages, Erwarton has an interesting little 13th century church, St. Mary’s. The church organ dates from 1912, and it bears a curious attachment; a copy of a drawing by Holbein of Anne Boleyn, together with this legend: after her execution in the Tower of London, 19 May 1536, it was recorded that her heart was buried in this church by her Uncle, Sir Philip Parker of Erwarton Hall. It goes on to reveal that in 1837 a lead casket was discovered in the church, believed to contain the hapless Anne Boleyn’s heart, yet the casket had no inscription. Historian Alison Weir points out that ‘heart burial had gone out of fashion in England by the end of the fourteenth century’ and identifies the uncle in question as Sir Phillip Calthorpe of Erwarton, who was married to Amy (or Amata) Boleyn, Anne’s aunt. Yet the story of the heart reverberated around the world for decades after the discovery, and an article in the New York Times dated November 13 1881 confirms Weir’s correction and tells us that Erwarton’s parish clerk, James Amner, who died in 1875, was present with the rector, Rev. Ralph Berners, when workmen, restoring the church, found the heart-shaped lead casket behind the north wall. It was opened and contained what appeared to be a pile of dust. It was re-buried in the Cornwallis vault, beneath where the organ now stands.
THE REMAINS OF THOMAS PAINE
America’s independence owes much to Thomas Paine, Born in Thetford, England on January 29, 1737. A great revolutionary, the author of The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, he inspired Washington’s army during the Revolution of 1776. As his service to America had been at his own expense. in 1784 New York State gave him a confiscated Royalist farm in New Rochelle, and Congress awarded him $3000. Paine died in New York City on June 8, 1809, and only six mourners, including two freed slaves, attended the funeral. He was buried on his farm.
In 1819 Britain’s William Cobbett, political activist and author of Rural Rides, another ‘dangerous man’, at one time Paine’s rival who had come to admire him, without permission dug up Paine’s remains and brought them to London with ambitious plans for a memorial which never materialised. Paine’s bones, in a series of boxes, were handed down through the generations of Cobbett’s descendants. What became of them is uncertain, although it is claimed that there is a rib in France, some of his bones were made into buttons and in 1987, a Sydney businessmen bought Paine’s skull while on holiday in London. It was sold to another Australian named John Burgess, reputed to be a descendant of an illegitimate child of Paine’s. The last bit of news on the tale was that Burgess’s wife was trying to raise $60,000 for DNA testing. Is it Paine’s skull? Both Gary Berton, president of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association and The New Rochelle Citizen Paine Restoration Initiative have been on the trail. Berton said the skull was the right size and has some incised markings which are believed to have been made by Cobbett and his son.
However, all that definitely remains in New Rochelle of the great are his mummified brain stem and a lock of hair, kept in a secret location.
He may have ruled Europe with a rod of iron, but as for Napoleon Bonaparte’s physical extremity, much enjoyed by Josephine, it seems to have suffered the ultimate indignity. The unkindest cut of all, the removal of Bonaparte’s penis is said to have been carried out by his physician when the Emperor died in exile on St. Helena in 1821. The doctor may have given it to the priest who gave him the last rites. The priest’s descendants, the Vignali family in Naples, crop up in an article by Guy Lesser about a rare book dealer, A.S.W. Rosenbach, in the January 2002 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Sadly, the fleshy relic does not seem to have been well preserved. Lesser writes: “Rosenbach evidently had been fond of showing off his collection of Napoleon relics to his most favoured clients, acquired in the mid-1920s, from the Vignali family of Naples, the descendants of Napoleon’s chaplain and last confessor on St. Helena. The relics included hair, cutlery, clothes, and, as the piece de resistance, so to speak, a short length of dried leather, kept by Rosenbach in a small blue morocco box–and delicately referred to, in his day, as ‘Napoleon’s tendon’. The ‘thing’ had been quietly sold by Rosenbach in the mid-1940s”
The wayward Willie has been compared at various times to piece of leather, a shrivelled eel or a bit of beef jerky. In 1927 it went on display in Manhattan, when TIME magazine likened it to a “maltreated strip of buckskin shoelace.” In 1977, John Lattimer, of New Jersey, the world’s leading urologist who had treated Nazi war criminals awaiting trial, reputedly forked out $3,000 for the battered baguette (some sources claim it was $38,000) and stored it under his bed where it stayed until his death in 2007. His daughter inherited it as a probably unexpected bonus in her father’s will, and has had offers up to $100,000. At least that’s a more dignified sum for an Emperor …
St. FRANCIS XAVIER’S TOE
When the faithful go in search of a miracle, they can have no better reward than a body which refuses to decompose. At the age of 46, the zealous Catholic missionary St. Francis Xavier, worn out from his various Asian sea voyages, died on Saturday December 3, 1552 on the Chinese island Sancian. The body remained buried – and fresh – for ten weeks in a coffin full of lime. It was then transported on a decorated galleon to Goa as the saint himself had wished to go there. Huge crowds, including the Viceroy himself, accompanied by the nobility, gave the cadaver a royal welcome.
On March 14,1554 the corpse, in a wooden coffin with damask lining, was taken to the Church of Ajuda at Ribandar. Dead or not, Xavier just kept on travelling. Two days later he was delivered to the Church of S. Paulo in Goa on March 16, 1554 and the strange life of a relic began when the little toe on the right foot was bitten off by Dona Isabel de Carom, a Portuguese woman, who claimed she was anxious to have a relic of the Saint. Apparently, it gushed blood. Three other toes were later removed from his right foot. One of the purloined extremities ended up at the saint’s birthplace, the Castle of Xavier. After 60 years of not mouldering in the grave, the ecclesiastic souvenir hunters were at it again. On November 3, 1614, Father General Claude Aquaviva instructed that the right arm was to be cut off at the elbow. It arrived in Rome the following year, where it remains in a silver reliquary in the church of Gesu. Today, St. Francis Xavier is spread far and wide. As well as the toe, displayed in a silver reliquary in a Goa cathedral, one of his hands is in Japan, there’s yet another relic elsewhere in Goa – a diamond-encrusted fingernail, and for all we know, he may have a toe in the door at other clerical locations.
THE MAORI HEADS
Back in less enlightened times, when Britain, France and Germany had empires, many branches of non-European humanity were seen simply as biological curiosities. Our intervention in such cultures back then must have had all the characteristics of today’s ‘alien abduction’ phenomena. Even as late as the 1960s, touring fairgrounds, alongside their 2-headed sheep, often had their 10-foot mummified South Pacific Giant or a brace of tiny, unfortunate mummified little characters doubling as either Polynesian pygmies or even ‘captured leprechauns’. However, the abduction of hapless tattooed Maoris developed into a grisly business for collectors of the exotic. Around the world today about 500 intricately tattooed Maori heads, known as ‘tai moko’ are either hidden away in dusty vaults or stored in boxes in various museum stockrooms. The sad thing about this repugnant trade is that many Maoris were kidnapped from New Zealand, forcibly tattooed, then be-headed. In May 2011 the head of one such unfortunate warrior was handed back to the Maoris in Rouen, Northern France, where it had languished in the city’s museum for the past 136 years. According to museum director Sebastien Minchin, up until 1966 the head had been displayed as part of the museum’s prehistoric collection. Although the Maori committee and the New Zealand Consul were pleased with the hand-over, there are still an estimated 15 of these heads awaiting return throughout France, and in recent years 300 tai mokos have returned home from countries around the world.
In the same dark, colonial collector’s netherworld which decapitated Maoris lies the story of two opportunistic mid-19th century French taxidermists, the Verrueax brothers, who, finding themselves at a burial site in the Kalahari desert, decided to take a break from stuffing lions and rhinos and exhume the body of a recently buried African man. Soon they had him well stuffed and suitably embalmed, and before long the morbidly curious of Europe were queuing up to see their handiwork. As the two maladjusted stuffers were a bit disappointed with their victim’s light skin, they decided on their own method of making him ‘African’ by adding a layer of black polish. He eventually came to rest in Spain at a Catalonian town called Banyoles, where, known to locals as ‘El Negro’, he resided for a century in the Darder Museum until in 1992, when Alphonse Arcelin, a local Doctor of Haitian descent, raised objections. The town fought to keep the corpse, and even issued boxes of chocolates commemorating his presence, but common sense eventually triumphed, and he was finally laid to rest in a dignified burial ceremony in Botswana in 2000.
SANTA’S STICKY BONES
Traditionally, St. Nick may squeeze down your chimney on Christmas Eve, but the jolly old redcoat’s mortal remains might put Rudolf right off his carrots.
The Middle Ages were the high watermark for the lucrative Christian business of attracting pilgrims to holy body parts and possible miracles. The long-dead, real St. Nicholas was originally lying in peace in a grave in Myra, Turkey. However, in 1087 the wily elders of the Italian town of Bari, looking for a suitable, cash-raising religious attraction, hit upon the wheeze of hiring a gang of pirates (some called them ‘privileged mariners’) to nip over to Turkey and raid the Myra crypt and bring Father Christmas to Bari. The mission was a success, and the buccaneering blag is celebrated every year with a massive parade followed by a firework display. Commissioned by Abbot Elia in 1087, the Romanesque basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari now attracts thousands of pilgrims who hope to benefit from the strange liquid called ‘Manna’ which oozes from St. Nick’s casket and is said to cure various illnesses.
THE KING’S HEAD GOES HOME
King Badu Bonsu of Ghana’s Ahanta tribe seems to have pushed the invading Dutch over the edge in 1838 when he decided to lop off the heads of two Dutch emissaries and use them to decorate his throne. When Major General Jan Verveer discovered what had happened, he promptly had the king hung and then decapitated, and took his head back home to Holland. It’s modern location, the Leiden University Medical Centre, was revealed by Dutch novelist Arthur Japin, who was researching his latest work. For decades, the poor old Monarch had been staring out through the glass from a dusty jar of formaldehyde in a store room in the centre’s anatomical collections department. In July 2009 the Dutch government received a deputation from Ghana to arrange the head’s return. The ceremony was not a particularly joyful occasion, despite the ceremonial tipple of Dutch gin and the red robes of the visiting Ahanta tribesmen. They were still angry; the King’s great, great grandson,Joseph Jones Amoah exclaiming “I am hurt, angry. My grandfather has been killed…” The party were also displeased as they thought they had only come to identify the relic, not return it, as they would first have to adhere to tribal protocol by reporting back to their chief. However, the king’s head went home a few days later, with the Dutch hoping that they’d righted a wrong.
The ages of imperialism and colonialism may be long past, but the lamentable enthrallment with bits and pieces of the departed, or even the whole body, is still with us. The frozen cadaver of the ‘Prince of Pop’, Michael Jackson, remains un-buried in a bare brick room in a gold casket encased in a clear fibreglass container. Jackson’s 79 year old mother can’t bring herself to have him buried for fear that grave robbers might moonwalk into the cemetery, and like a scene from ‘Thriller’, make off with a Jacko souvenir.
It’s a pity all those religious zealots, fairground barkers, taxidermists, and Lenin’s 1924 embalmers didn’t know anything about the modern science of cryonics. If the old chestnut about Walt Disney’s frozen noggin is true, saints and sinners could, like baseball legend Ted Williams, whose body was frozen in 2002, become major live attractions in the years to come.
 Weir, Alison The Lady in The Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn Vintage, 2010.
 For two engrossing leads on Paine’s remains read Collins, Paul The Trouble With Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine Bloomsbury, 2006. There is also a fascinating article in the New York Times dated May 31st 1914 at http://query.nytimes.com/memo/archive-free/pdf?
http://jezebel.com/5797973/a-visit-with-napoleons-penis This is a video where the writer, Tony Perrottet, author of Napoleon’s Privates, (Harper Entertainment, 2008) visits Lattimer’s daughter to track down the penis. For some peculiar reason, although he verifies its existence in the basement, the camera is not allowed to film it.
Himmler knew a thing or two about separating kids from parents. Hard to believe they’d do it today in the USA, but Donald Trump just loves the idea.
DON’T MENTION THE NAZIS: AMERICA’S CHILD ABDUCTION AND HUMAN RIGHTS
There’s a tried and tested rule on the extreme fringes of political debate; it states that once you mention the Third Reich and the Nazis, you’ve lost. However, in America this rule has been tested to destruction. The experience of distraught parents in Texas is a modern echo of this Polish comment from 1941: “I saw children being taken from their mothers; some were even torn from the breast. It was a terrible sight: the agony of the mothers and fathers, the beating by the Germans, and the crying of the children.” (1)Perhaps, now that the White House has cleared the way, the Nazis can enter the debate after all.
Child abduction or child theft (let’s call it what it is) is the unauthorized removal of a minor (a child under the age of legal adulthood) from the custody of the child’s natural parents or legally appointed guardians. Late in 1939, following the invasion of Poland, as part of his ‘racial register’ which set out to liquidate the Poles, Heinrich Himmler wrote: “I think it is our duty to adopt their children, to remove them from their surroundings, if necessary to steal or kidnap them.” (2)
On Tuesday June 19th 2018, Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, issued the announcement that the US was pulling out of the UN Human Rights Council, describing it as a “cesspool of political bias not worthy of its name”. The announcement was carefully and cynically timed, as the full horror was unfolding of what was happening on the Mexican border. The true number of children forcibly separated from parents, and apparently undocumented, is not known. Despite Donald Trump’s disgraceful doubling-down conjuring trick with his ‘Executive Order’ which ostensibly halts his administration’s deliberate and callous cruelty, it looks doubtful that many of the estimated 2,500 missing children will ever see their parents again. Although there may be cages filled with unfortunate toddlers and babies in the much-publicised Texan tent camps, an abandoned Walmart and a warehouse, hundreds more children have been secretly spirited away to locations throughout the USA, with over 250 revealed to be at a secret location in New York.
This 21st century American ‘authorized’ version of mass child abduction has been sold to the country as official immigration policy. Yet grim historical comparisons to this mass child kidnapping will no doubt be conveniently overlooked by the placard-waving MAGA maniacs at Trump’s regular ego-massaging rallies. As the POTUS’s ratings go up, America’s once-proud mantra ‘home of the free’ goes down like the Hindenburg. The sadistic underlying ransom message in Washington seems plain: fund ‘the wall’ and we’ll free the kids.
Heinrich Himmler chose the city of Zamosc, near Lublin, as the administrative hub of his hideous project to destroy Polish life and culture. As mass deportations were organised by the SS, approximately 30,000 children were expelled from the Zamosc area. Himmler’s bizarre racial plans led him to select many children who the SS thought had ‘German’ characteristics; blue eyes, blonde hair. Thousands were torn from their Polish families and sent west into the Reich where they would be placed for ‘Germanisation’ with Nazi families.
The families they were separated from mainly died in the death camps or as forced labourers. Yet many Poles fought back in an attempt to protect the removal of more children, issuing the statement “You may have bombed our Warsaw, you may imprison and deport us, but you will not harm our children.” Ordinary people took great risks in rescuing children from trains bound for the west. In Bydgoszcz and Gdynia, Poles actually bought children at 40 Reichsmarks apiece. So forceful and aggressive were the Polish women in their aim of saving children that the Nazis changed the deportation rail routes.
Despite the brave efforts at rescue, after the war only 10 to 15 percent of those abducted returned home. Almost 14,000 inquiries over missing children yielded nothing. Even today there are thousands of people descended from these kidnapped children, who were taught to forget their own country and heritage, and given new identities.
There may not be death camps in Texas, but it is amazing that the same level of blatant psychological cruelty is being utilised against innocent minors in order to satisfy the draconian whims of politicians in Washington. The west may not be ‘the good guys’ any longer, but this malice – using kids for ransom – is global.
In Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria on the night of 14–15 April 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School. Responsibility for the kidnappings was claimed by the extremist terrorist organization Boko Haram, based in north eastern Nigeria. A further 750 children have been snatched by the same terrorists. Hundreds of children disappear in China every week. Children, it seems, for many purposes, are assets, highly charged emotional bargaining chips for ransom, and those who indulge in this crime cause nothing but life-changing heartbreak and misery. Therefore the revelations of what depths the Trump organisation is prepared to sink to ought to make his bedazzled rallies wonder if this behaviour will ‘make America great’. Sadly, they believe what Fox News tells them, so it has no effect, and neither did the Nazi’s similar behaviour prick Germany and Austria’s mass conscience in the 1930s.
The Trump Administration may well have proudly demonstrated its grim inhumanity but despite dropping out of the UN Human Rights Council, they are still acting against legal norms. The Hague Conference has currently 83 Members: 82 States. It features many regulations on the abduction of children. For example, the Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction includes Article 7:
Central Authorities shall co-operate with each other and promote co-operation amongst the competent authorities in their respective States to secure the prompt return of children and to achieve the other objects of this Convention.
In particular, either directly or through any intermediary, they shall take all appropriate measures to discover the whereabouts of a child who has been wrongfully removed or retained. Other reports by organisations such as UNICEF reveal that child abduction is a regular occurrence around the world.
In the USA and Europe voices have been raised about the resurgence of fascist activity. But the anger is nowhere near as loud as it should be. As Britain pulls away via Brexit from 70 years of post-war European stability, much to the delight of dictators like Vladimir Putin, the new populist leaders like to keep it simple. As his desires to become ‘President for Life’ are fulfilled, perhaps Donald Trump might sum up his success with a tweet on these lines: “I will tell you what has carried me to the position I have reached. Our political problems appeared complicated. The people could make nothing of them. … I, on the other hand … reduced them to the simplest terms. The masses realized this and followed me.”
Sadly, such cynical eloquence might evade him; those were the words of Adolf Hitler.
CURBING YOUR ENTHUSIASM
I hope I’m not alone when I suggest that writers with a passion for history can get so carried away with a story they imagine the whole world needs to read it. It has an epic backdrop and a cast of colourful characters. The dusty archives have served you up a handful of diamonds. It has all the human elements for ‘a good read’. Surely, this could be more than a book? Possibly a movie, a radio programme, and most of all, a TV documentary.
For example, TV, from Channel 5 through to BBC4, Discovery, Yesterday and History appear to have an insatiable demand for new angles on everything from WW1 to the Third Reich. As for the latter, it is amazing that the Reich lasted a mere 13 years yet the Nazis have been goose-stepping across our screens for almost 80. Hitler promised ‘a 1,000 year Reich’. Well, in entertainment terms, he seems on target. So, with the absence of the Waffen-SS, how does a writer delving into other epochs convince producers that his yarn is a possible gem?
In 1999 I was asked over to Kalmar in Sweden to discuss the possibility of scripting a TV documentary about wrecks in the Baltic. I was shown footage of a series of wrecks which had all been sunk by one British submarine, HMS E19. Five had been sunk in one day, October 11 1915. Back in the UK I checked this with the RN Submarine Museum in Gosport. They sent me a one page document outlining the career of HMS E19’s commander, Francis Cromie. I had inadvertently discovered a true ‘Boys Own’ charismatic naval hero. The editor of Saga magazine, Paul Bach, went for my proposal for a feature, which would run in two episodes. Saga funded a trip to Russia accompanied by the photographer Graham Harrison. After a lot of research my agent landed a book deal with Airlife of Shrewsbury. The story had everything. Submarine warfare, the Bolshevik Revolution, an illicit love affair, byzantine espionage with the ‘Ace of Spies’, Sidney Reilly, all culminating in Cromie’s murder in the British Embassy in Petrograd on August 31 1918. As I have quipped facing up to many potential backers – ‘What’s not to like?’ Nothing, it seems.
Hailing from Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, Francis Newton Allen Cromie CB DSO RN (1882-1918) was one of the pioneers of the Royal Navy’s submarine service. Handsome, tee-total, non-smoking, he was a watercolour artist, a musician, brilliant orator and mediator. He was commanding a submarine in his 20s when he received the Royal Humane Society’s medal for saving a sailor from drowning. He was sent in charge of 5 subs in 1915 to support the Russians and join Commander Max Horton’s successful Baltic flotilla based in Reval, Estonia (today’s Tallin). 200 British sailors shared their accommodation with the Russian navy on board a decommissioned Russian battleship, the Dvina. During the winter, when the Baltic froze over, action was impossible. But before the ice arrived, Cromie had sunk a dozen vessels, including the German Cruiser, Undine. He was decorated by Tsar Nicholas, invited to dine on the royal train. He soon mastered the Russian language and although married with a child at home, he was the consummate ladies’ man, seen regularly with other women, including a Baroness Schilling, and the mysterious Moura Budberg (ex-Liberal leader Nick Clegg’s aunt and later mistress to H. G. Wells.). During the Russian winter he was feted wherever he went, making this speech to artists, writers and musicians at the Duma in Moscow:
“Gentlemen; you are creators. What you create will live long after you. I am only a simple sailor. I destroy, but can say truthfully that I destroy in order that your works may live.”
This impressed Britain’s envoy in Moscow, Robin Bruce Lockhart.
Cromie toured the Russian front line and became increasingly aware of the growing tensions between the aloof Russian officer class and the ill-equipped, ill-fed ordinary soldiers. Back in Tallin, after months of tension between the oppressed, jealous Russian sailors and their well-treat British counterparts, revolution was in the air. During this fraught period Cromie spent time at the British Embassy in Petrograd (St. Petersburg). There he fell in love with a beautiful young socialite, Sonya Gagarin.
When the revolution began in March 1917, the Russian navy mutinied, killing hundreds of officers overnight. Cromie had a difficult task in keeping his own men apart from Russian politics, whilst he often intervened on behalf of hapless Russian ratings who had been accused and condemned by the sailors’ revolutionary committees of failing to support the struggle. In Moscow, Bruce Lockhart was joined by master spy Sidney Reilly (the original inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond). A plan was hatched to depose Lenin.
By 1918 with the Revolution in full swing, Britain’s embassy staff in Petrograd, led by Sir George Buchanan, feared for their lives and returned to Britain, leaving Cromie as acting Naval Attache in the embassy. He could have gone home, but his love for Sonya Gagarin kept him there. With the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Russia was no longer fighting the Germans. Cromie’s submarines and men were no longer required. His sailors were sent home via Murmansk. Cromie, out of his depth in espionage, made a fatal mistake of joining Reilly and Bruce Lockhart’s plans to bring an Allied force to Russia to defeat the Bolsheviks. Cromie met with representatives of Lenin’s Praetorian Guard, the Latvian regiment, who promised to join the Allies against Lenin – for a price. But Cromie, Lockhart and Reilly had been duped; the Latvian approach was a sting organised by the Cheka, the fore-runner of the KGB.
On August 30th 1918 Moisei Uritsky, the head of the Petrograd Cheka was assassinated. This was an excuse to round up anyone involved with the Allies, especially the British. The following day, Saturday August 31st, Red Guards raided the British Embassy. Cromie, aged 37, revolver in hand, went down fighting. He is buried in an unmarked grave in St. Petersburg. Sidney Reilly vanished until 1925 when he was shot dead in Russia.
In the 16 years since I completed Cromie’s biography, Honoured by Strangers, I’ve given lectures on Cromie at various venues including the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, but I have lost count of the meetings with TV companies. Many of them feigned enthusiasm. Between 2016 to the present the Cromie package has gone out to 18 production companies, but none could sell it to the networks. It’s also been lodged with various history figureheads such as Dan Snow, Max Hastings, Michael Palin, Melvyn Bragg, Ian Hislop and even Jeremy Clarkson. To their credit, both Palin and Hislop had the manners to reply and turn it down. “Too busy”.
Cromie was awarded a CB posthumously by King George. Churchill referred to him as ‘a man of great ability’. And I always like to think, in cinematic terms, of the melodramatic coda to an imaginary movie (yes, I even wrote a screenplay). The heartbroken Sonya Gagarin left Russia in 1927 and emigrated to America, where she married a Russian émigré called Rovskosky. She died, childless and alone in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1979. She never visited Russia again.
Churchill also said ‘success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’ However, as the unsung centenary of a heroic death sails silently by, at last my enthusiasm has been curbed.
As a writer who still feels a little unsure about writing poetry, I was pleased to be invited on Saturday April 21st by the poet and playwright Kevin Fegan to join him and Henry Normal for Henry’s Poetry Hour, where I got to read the poem (below). This is from my small book of verse which came out last week, POCKET LOVE, which is a 6” x 4” pocket sized tome containing 34 verses on the subject of love, passion, lust and longing. Naturally, being less than confident as a poet has always meant that I’ve avoided submitting any collections to a bona fide publisher. The prospect of dismissive ridicule looms large. But what the hell! I read this poem and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. Onwards and sideways!
Never appreciated Byron,
No comprehension of Neruda,
My clumsiness had one effect;
It made my craving cruder
I remained unsure of Shelley,
Perplexed with Dylan Thomas
Shakespeare I almost understood
His verse offered promise
I felt, as all young lovers,
That I deserved a ration,
A brief insight to all these names
To supplement my passion
Yet the chains of youthful ignorance
Were bound tight around my soul
So I expressed my love for you
With lines from rock’n’roll.
So just like Jackie Wilson,
You became my Reet Petite,
I raved on like Buddy Holly
My heart Chuck Berry’s beat
Little Richard joined Gene Vincent
With Elvis in the lead
Thus Hound Dog, Bebopalula
Satisfied romantic needs.
But that was many moons ago
Before I understood the truth
Behind the passion of great poets,
The conundrum of my youth
With age comes understanding
The years bring clarity
So I thank you Shelley, Dylan Thomas,
For what you gave to me, and
To Neruda and Will Shakespeare
All pouring passion from your hearts
Now this aficionado understands,
Although he didn’t at the start
Yet in my young pursuit of passion,
I still satisfied my soul,
If great poetry is perplexing,
There’s always rock’n’roll.
And regarding passion and lust, I saw this from the website This Day in History,- a little gem:
April 22 1886 Seduction is made illegal
Ohio passes a statute that makes seduction unlawful. Covering all men over the age of 18 who worked as teachers or instructors of women, this law even prohibited men from having consensual sex with women (of any age) whom they were instructing. The penalty for disobeying this law ranged from two to 10 years in prison.
Ohio’s seduction law was not the first of its kind. A Virginia law made it illegal for a man to have an “illicit connexion (sic) with any unmarried female of previous chaste character” if the man did so by promising to marry the girl. An 1848 New York law made it illegal to “under promise of marriage seduce any unmarried female of previous chaste character.” Georgia’s version of the seduction statute made it unlawful for men to “seduce a virtuous unmarried female and induce her to yield to his lustful embraces, and allow him to have carnal knowledge of her.”
These laws were only sporadically enforced, but a few men were actually prosecuted and convicted. In Michigan, a man was convicted of three counts of seduction, but the appeals court did everything in its power to overturn the decision. It threw out two charges because the defense reasoned that the woman was no longer virtuous after the couple’s first encounter. The other charge was overturned after the defense claimed that the woman’s testimony–that they had had sex in a buggy–was medically impossible.
On some occasions, women used these laws in order to coerce men into marriage. A New York man in the middle of an 1867 trial that was headed toward conviction proposed to the alleged victim. The local minister was summoned, and the trial instantly became a marriage ceremony.