I’m proud to say that tomorrow I will be accompanying Bill Betts, a 91 year old D Day veteran, back to Normandy for the D Day 70 commemorations on friday. Bill lives in a village near me and we met in the local pub one Remembrance Day a few years ago. Bill joined the Essex Yeomanry in 1942 and trained as a radio operator on Sherman tanks. He was one of the first ashore on Gold beach on D Day where he was directing fire against German gun emplacements defending the small village of Le Hamel. Within 45 minutes of landing he was shot by a sniper hiding in a field above the beach who also killed the soldier next to him. Bill knew the sniper would finish him off if he moved a muscle so he pretended to be dead until the village was eventually cleared. He then spent an agonizing 10 hours lying injured on the beach until he was evacuated at the end of D Day. After six weeks in hospital Bill rejoined his regiment and fought his way into Germany being one of the first people across the Rhine in a floating Sherman Duplex Drive tank. This is commonly known to the troops as a Donald Duck! Bill still has the scar on his leg and told me that 70 years on he never thought he’d see that bloody beach again. I’ll be tweeting throughout the commemorations and also posting pictures on my website.
Seventy years after the Second World War there is a second battle going on in Malta. As an amateur historian who studies the war I know Malta has earned its place in history. Now its time once again for the people of Malta to rise up in the defence of their island.
During the Second World War Malta was the most bombed place on earth as the RAF fought the Luftwaffe for control of the stategically placed island. Last year I saw a programme on the BBC about the battle in which the historian James Holland found the remains of a Spitfire still buried in a field. During the war the bravery of all the people was officially recognised by King George VI, who awarded the George Cross to the entire island.
This time the battle for Malta features real birds, not warbirds. Chris Packham is highlighting the illegal slaughter of migrating birds over the island by hunters in a project called ‘Malta massacre on migration’. Its a self financed project which is very close to Chris’s heart. Every day this week until saturday he will post a video on YouTube at 9pm UK time to publicise the slaughter.
“Our mission is to generate a wider awareness of this heinous practice with frank and factual reports from the frontline where our much loved migrant birds are being shot in huge numbers. It will not be pretty, the species killed include many UK favourites and rarities and the hunters are infamous for being confrontational and violent. I don’t care, this is not a holiday, it’s an attempt to bring this forgotten issue to a wider public attention and then to offer a couple of ways the viewers can actually do something to effect positive change”.
Malta massacre on migration exactly illustrates what I admire most about Chris Packham and what makes him different from other natural history TV presenters. Who else would use their own money to highlight an issue like this and put themselves literally in the firing line in the name of conservation?
When I interviewed Chris back in 2010 for the Independent newspaper I wrote “Throughout his career, Packham has never fought shy of speaking his mind. In the past year, this has seen him credited in the media with waging war on pandas, dormice, insect-eating celebrities and, most recently, tigers”.
“I don’t court controversy for the sake of it, but I do want to start a debate”, he told me. I concluded the interview by saying “And that is what makes Chris Packham so special. He is not on our screens because he wants to be a famous presenter, but because it gives him a platform from which to shout about what really matters to him: conserving our rapidly vanishing wildlife”.
Now Chris is again using his celebrity status but this time to go into battle with the Maltese hunters who are shooting our birds out of the sky. Its a battle we must all help him to win and end this senseless massacre. So please go to his website and find out how you can help. Later this year there will be a referendum on the issue facilitated by BirdLife Malta. Over seventy years after Malta won the George Cross, it may finally silence the guns for good.
I’m currently taking a course at Stratford College on writing for newspapers and magazines. Each pupil was asked to write a feature on a specialist subject. This is Thailand by Richard-Neil Weatherhead.
Thailand, a backpackers paradise and the hedonistic capital of the world. A place that can pull you in and spit you back out again just as fast if you’re not paying close enough attention. From its stunning topical islands and beaches to its bustling cities, adventure lurks around every corner. It is the ultimate escape, everything you have heard about Thailand is probably true. There are an unlimited amount of places to explore and stories to be told. So when my friend Rory mentioned that he was going there for his scuba divers license, I knew that I couldn’t miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to tag along and see it all for myself. READ MORE
I’m currently taking a course at Stratford College on writing for newspapers and magazines. Each pupil was asked to write a feature on a specialist subject. This is A child’s war by Teresa Foot.
The media have recently been focusing on this year’s anniversary of the beginning of the WW1. Nostalgia, reminiscences, historical analyses and photographic reminders have all been on display, and rightly so. This reminds me of my own memories of WW2. Coincidentally, at the same time, my granddaughter’s teacher asks for my help. She wants me to go into school to talk to the children about my memories. I agree and it is arranged.
I have to prepare. I am used to addressing adult audiences, but children are something else. I start by jotting down some memories: the lack of food, the cold, the dark, the fear, the normality of it all, as I knew no other life. I decide that for this session a bit of action is better than a thousand words, so I trawl the internet for recordings of air raid warning sirens, aircraft noise and all clear sirens. As I listen my stomach knots up with a permanently imprinted fear reaction from seventy-two years ago. Once again I am a frightened little girl, dragged sleepily out of bed to go and crouch in a Morrison shelter, with the steady hum of aircraft passing overhead. I didn’t know it at the time, but they are on their way to bomb elsewhere, not my house. READ MORE
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