The Reverend who brokered peace……… a forgotten piece of news.

I was listening to the radio the other day at work and caught in passing the end of a news article about a reverend who had brokered peace dying, and thought little more of it, until I got home and realised that this news had not made it much outside Ireland, and a postscript on the BBC news (it is there if you look, but someone like this should really have taken precedence over what some nameless celebrity is upto…), and it seemed to have been somewhat overshadowed in the popular press.  I have a personal interest in Northern Irish modern history, as my family lost at least one member to the troubles (Gabriel Mulally).  So I thought after some digging that my blog would be the perfect place to give Father Alec Reid the recognition he deserves.

Alec-Reid_2743188bFr Alec Reid, who was a key figure in the Northern Ireland peace process, acting as a go-between between the IRA and politicians

_71280633_alecreudcropHere we see in 1988; Fr Reid, pictured praying over the bodies of Army corporals Derek Wood and David Howes who had been dragged from their car, beaten and shot by the IRA.

The Daily Telegraph ( ) writes:

Father Alec Reid, who has died aged 82, was a Redemptorist priest who played a pivotal role in the early stages of the peace process in Northern Ireland when he acted as an intermediary between the IRA and the Irish government.

For almost 40 years Father Alec Reid lived and worshipped at the Clonard Monastery off the Falls Road in West Belfast. As feuds between Unionists and Nationalists raged on his doorstep, he worked behind the scenes to broker peace and offer comfort to those affected by the violence. He first came to prominence in Northern Ireland in 1982, when he visited Gerry Adams, then joint vice-president of Sinn Fein, to try to persuade the IRA to release a kidnapped member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The mission failed and the IRA murdered the man,

In 1988, during some of the worst of the Troubles, when there seemed to be no hope of a political or military solution, a shocking photograph of Father Alec, his hands clasped in prayer, his face smeared with blood, kneeling over the body of a British soldier – one of two who had been lynched by a frenzied Republican mob, seemed to indicate that Northern Ireland was about to descend into new depths of inhumanity.

The picture was beamed around the world, but no one knew until years later that beneath his coat the priest was carrying a secret Sinn Fein document for the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader John Hume on how to resolve the crisis. After the photograph was taken Reid returned to his monastery and changed the envelope because the blood of one of the British soldiers was on it.

Despite the failure of his earlier attempt to persuade Gerry Adams of the need to pursue peace, Reid remained in close contact after Adams became Sinn Fein president, and in 1987 was asked to act as go-between when the IRA first made guarded suggestions of a ceasefire to the then Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

The BBCs Mark Simpson tweeted;

He was met in some cases with plainly “?”; this for a man who whilst he may not have been perfect, saw fit to provide the last rites in a dangerous situation, and to try do what he could to bring an end to a century of fighting and bloodshed, a man who should be known about more.

This man was as one twitter follower said “one of the first to come out of the trenches”, a man who was not afraid for himself, but one who knew he had to do the right thing.  In recent years, he was according to the BBC; involved in talks with Basque nationalists seeking independence from Spain.  His giving of the last rites to the two soldiers of 1988 epitomised faith and the nations strength of conviction and showed religion need not be part of the problem, but a part of the solution.  He carried messages between both sides in an attempt to help bring the troubles to a close, and although there have been several flareups, he helped to douse the flames.


Whilst listening to the radio on the way home from work yesterday, I turned to Radio 4 and was enjoying the “Moral Maze”, and they were debating the differences between public and private life and if public figures should live with total transparency and that someone who has made bad decisions in their personal life could not lead effectively in their public life.  I got thinking that if this were true, then we should have undoubtedly lost at Trafalgar and that someones poor decisions in their personal life did not necessarily mean they were not a great leader.  If this were true, then Nelson, who had an affair and a bastard child with Emma Hamilton, would today have been lynched and vilified in the press and would therefore never have lead us at Trafalgar, and in that case we would have lost the Napoleonic wars…… We can look at Alexander III king of Macedon, conquered untold lands and his military tactics are still taught today, he had his name applied to over twenty cities, and his influence in the Hellenic society was felt into the 15th century; yet today his private life, and sexual orientation would have been bigger news…. after all he was married twice and had a close relationship with Hephaestion, no different to the insinuation about some cabinet ministers who have left office in disgrace in the past.


We could perhaps conclude from this that the media, and their ideology of exposition and public do-goodery is more of a hindrance than a help.   After all, can one say with complete honesty that the fact a man is unfaithful to his wife means he will not be some great military leader, or hold the key to curing the NHS of it’s ills?  Albeit we may well draw some inference from the fact that if he is not honest to the ones they love, can he be honest to the public at large?  Well would we not rather a sinner who has confessed his sins than one whose sins are as yet not found?


It is of course a severe moral point, rather than an historical one, but a point I thought that as historians we can perhaps shed some light on, for they discuss whether or not a true leader can lead or rule without total transparency.  All I could think of this was that all the leaders who have lead the longest over the largest empires have been ones who have ruled with total opacity, rather than transparency.  They all had a cult of personality, and covered much up, which I believe helped cement them as rulers, and leaders.  Those who failed at this opacity were the ones who failed to last long, for instance take the fact that King James VII attempted to sell the United Kingdom out to the French and the Catholic church, when this was discovered he was deposed in the Glorious revolution of 1688, and William and Mary took his place, this “transparency” (it need not be a voluntary transparency), caused his downfall.  So perhaps we can conclude that whilst transparency can be a good thing, that perhaps it needs to be tempered with civility from the press and to resist whipping up a storm in a teacup over things that really mean little to public life?

Exemplary Bravery, in a forgotten theatre………

Recently I found out about these two men, and as the theatre is a rather forgotten one by many, I thought my readers would find them interesting.

Both men were from the 6 Rajputana Rifles;


The citation for the immediate award of the Military Medal, states:

“During operations on the Toungoo-Wawchi Road, on the 1st July 1945 on the “Nevis” feature, No.22638 Lance Naik Karam Ellahi’s Company Position was heavily attacked by approximately 40 Japanese supported by a Motor Machine Gun and Light Machine Guns. The enemy’s attack was concentrated on the forward edge of the perimeter, which was covered by a section of Motor Machine Guns. The guns had only been put into position, and trenches had been dug, when the enemy attacked. These guns were in a completely exposed position and the enemy attempted to encircle one of the Motor Machine Guns and the Gun Crews were killed. On seeing this Lance Naik Karam Ellahi picked up a Bren gun, doubled forward under intense fire disregarding a grenade wound on his head, took up a position between the Motor Machine Guns and gave effective covering fire whilst reserves took over the Motor Machine Guns. When the Motor Machine Guns had almost run out of ammunition this non commissioned officer returned under heavy enemy fire and brought up reserve ammunition. Through the initiative and personal disregard for danger he prevented the gun from falling into enemy hands. The outstanding example set by this non commissioned officer was of the highest order and an inspiration to all ranks.”


Khuda Dad, a Punjabi Musalman from the village of Havelian, in the district of Hazara, on the North West Frontier of India, served during the Second World War, as a Rifleman (No.28826) with the 3rd Battalion, the 6th Rajputana Rifles. After service on garrison duty in India, this unit arrived in Burma in September 1944, and it was during the action at Sadwingyi on 30th December 1944, that Rifleman Khuda Dad performed the act of bravery which led to the award of his Military Medal. 

The recommendation reads as follows: “At Sadwingyi, on 30th December 1944, Rifleman Khuda Dad was a member of the leading section of a platoon due to launch an attack on the enemy position. At ‘H’ hour, as the leading section rose to the attack a mortar bomb landed in the midst of them killing one man and wounding five others. Rifleman Khuda Dad, realising that his wounded comrades were lying in the open, under enemy fire, seized his section’s Bren gun, the Bren No.1 being amongst those wounded and alone charged the enemy position. He eventually took up his position within twenty yards of the enemy and covered the evacuation of his wounded comrades with his Bren gun and by throwing hand grenades into the enemy position. His complete disregard for his own safety and his selfless devotion to duty was of the highest order.”


So there you go, two stories of exceptional bravery, in a very nearly forgotten theatre (at least often overlooked theatre in comparison to the European theatre).

We Shall Remember Them…….

Today I shall be laying the wreath on behalf of the British Red Cross Society at the remembrance parade in our local town. I was asked to write something for the note in the wreath, and whilst researching what to write, I found out that during the Great War, 56 of my fellow British Red Cross volunteers gave their lives;



























































These men and women, were serving with the British Red Cross Society overseas; The majority were serving in France, others were serving in Iraq, and India. Of these there were 3 Croix De Guerre (France), a Medal for Military Valour (Italy), and numerous other awards, with many of the volunteers having formerly been regular army or holding medical qualifications in civilian life, that they felt could be of use.


As I lay the wreath at 11.00 today, I shall be thinking, not only of these 56, but of all the volunteers; my fellow volunteers, who have served with quiet courage, going out into danger completely unarmed, and tended to those in need.

The “Black Market”; From “Market Ouvert” to the “Silk Road”….

The “Black Market”, a term used now to cover the sales of goods or services that are illegal, it is implicitly the actual sale of the goods and not necessarily the goods themselves that are illegal. This forms a third of the overall market area: White [the legal market for goods and services ], Grey [is the trade of a commodity through distribution channels which, while legal, are unofficial, unauthorized, or unintended by the original manufacturer.] and the Black market. From the research I have done the black market can be considered to have existed as long as the white economy has, and it is generally considered by economists to have around 1.8 billion people employed in it worldwide.

Whilst it is obvious that a black market has existed as long as someone has wanted something that is either legally unobtainable or regulated to the extent that it is difficult to obtain through proper channels. For the sake of brevity my article only goes back as far as is practical and to what I consider to be the origins of today’s “Black Market”, this in my opinion is around the 15th century when the Market Ouvert; “Open Market” or “Thieves Charter” was introduced, which allowed the sale of stolen goods as long it was within a set market space, and between set times, this is presumably from a period when people did not travel; if the victim of a theft did not bother to look in his local market on market day—the only place where the goods were likely to be—he was not being suitably diligent. This sale in a designated market meant that provenance could not be questioned and effective title of ownership was obtained. No doubt things that were heavily taxed were smuggled we know this for fact, and these items, such as brandy or port, or spices that evaded the excise men were sold for an inflated price on the “Black Market”, as well as goods purloined from ships coming into harbour that found their way into the local economy.

From this we move forward to the era of rationing, which contrary to most peoples belief that it started in the early days of WW2, whereas in fact rationing was first implemented in 1917, with the blockades of WW1, the UK came to within 6 weeks of running out of food, and in a considered measure implemented rationing in 1917 with butter and sugar remaining rationed until 1920. The days of WW2, the first commodity in this era to be rationed was petrol with more goods coming quickly under DORA, [the Defence Of the Realm Act] officially titled the Emergency Powers Act. The effect of increased rationing of items created a vacuum of goods in society and this therefore created a “Black Market” for goods in wartime Britain. Commodities such as petrol, sugar, butter etc. were traded in the black market, as well as coupons, forged and genuine, as well as poached items such as game, or trout.

This today has led to a “Black Market” of illicit goods, such as pharmaceuticals, and counterfeit clothing amongst other things, and more recently has lead to the growth of an internet “sub-net” black market ebay, called “The Silk Road” which operates on the seedier underbelly of the internet in the “dark net”, users use an onion router (so called because of it’s many layers of encryption), to access a virtually untraceable market place where users can purchase anything from drugs, to guns, to counterfeit documents. It has recently been cracked down on with sophisticated techniques being used to trace those within. Is this the end of the “Black Market”? Almost certainly not, although it could well mean there will be a new push to a different way of trading. There you go a short, and rather rough history of the black market in the UK, but I consider that other nations have probably followed suit in the way their black markets have evolved.


When the Tigers Broke Free……..

Dramatic dispatches detailing the final 24 hours of Pink Floyd star’s soldier father in World War II reveal his heroic last stand


Dramatic dispatches describing the final hours of Pink Floyd star Roger Waters’s soldier father have been uncovered by a fellow soldier.

Eric Fletcher Waters died in 1944 while serving as a second lieutenant with the Royal Fusiliers as they advanced through Italy as World War Two was reaching its closing stages.

War Diary documents unearthed at the National Archives in Kew by former veteran Harry Shindler, paint a clear picture of the final 24 hours of Lt Waters and the brave men of Z company (coy) who were with him at Anzio in February 1944.

The first line dated February 17 records how at 11am ‘intensive shelling and mortaring’ took place in the area where Lt Waters, commanding officer John Oliver-Bellasis and the rest of Z company as they tried to advance on a heavily defended German position.

Later in the day, an entry timed 1745, describes colourfully how the Germans called on Lt Waters and his comrades to give up: ‘Z coy reported an attack on the left forward platoon. The bosche called on them to surrender but were answered with all available SA (semi automatic) fire. Casualties were inflicted.’

Just over an hour later, the entry adds: ‘Situation well in hand, enemy decided to withdraw. ‘Prisoners from Z coy said they had recently marched from Rome and were told they would not be used in an attack. Had also been told that b’head was almost finished.’

The report goes on to record a quiet night but then in the early hours of the morning at 1.45am, the day Lt Waters was killed, describes an ‘enemy concentration reported on the rt of 7th Oxf & Bucks, which is followed by an entry at 0630 of how the Oxf and Bucks troops are being attacked ‘and sounds of tracked vehilces heard to their front.’

At 7.15am ‘Z coy reported attack by approx 50 Bosches. Successfully dealt with.’ More than two hours later at 0945am it adds: ‘5 enemy killed and several spandaus captured as result of above.’ Then 30 minutes later the battle which will claim Lt Waters life begins.

It reads: ‘Further attack on Z coy. This time in greater strength than previous attack. Enemy in close contact with forward positions. Unable to send assistance as Z coy having trouble on their rt.’

An hour later the Diary records: ‘Z coy reported enemy all round their positions, very stiff fighting going on.’ Then at 1130am the final report reads: ‘Lt Waters killed and Lt Hill wounded, situation now critical. Message received over air that assistance would now be too late.’

Lt Waters was killed in the first wave of fighting as the Allies attempted to secure the beach head at Anzio, south of Rome and his son was just five months old when he died.

Lt Waters name is on a memorial at the nearby Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Cassino but his remains were never found.

Eric Waters’ death provided the inspiration for several songs and it is commemorated in particular with When The Tigers Broke Free, which also appeared in the film The Wall.

In the song, Waters describes how he feels that his 31-year-old father died because of foolhardy generals.

The last verse has the lyrics ‘It was dark all around. There was frost in the ground When the tigers broke free. And no one survived  From the Royal Fusiliers Company Z. They were all left behind, Most of them dead.

And to see the details of Eric Fletcher Waters CWGC entry:,%20ERIC%20FLETCHER



FUR you the war is over…..

Operation Munchkin: Bizarre Nazi plan to breed giant Angora rabbits in concentration camps for fur-lined clothes for Hitler’s men.


Details of a bizarre Nazi plan to breed giant Angora rabbits in concentration camps to provide fur-lined clothing for Hitler’s armed forces has been unearthed in a German archive.

‘Operation Munchkin’, as it was known, was the brainchild of sinister S.S. chief Heinrich Himmler who was had a career as a trained chicken farmer before he became the architect of the Holocaust.

He ordered a breeding programme for the rabbits and specified that they were to be raised in luxury just yards away from the where the most terrible crime against humanity was taking place.

In yet another example of the bizarre contradictions that were the Third Reich, this story of Operation Munchkin, was something I had hitherto not heard of…..  In yet a bizarre twist of fate the SS took to caring for rabbits, in a fashion they no doubt found incomprehensible too when dealing with the other inmates….