Tag Archives: Arnhem

Behind The Scenes In The Vintage Years

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Behind The Scenes In The Vintage Years
By Torrens (Arthur Bourne)
Matador – £24.99

Back in the 1920s, there were more motor cyclists than car drivers, records were being broken every month at the Brooklands race track in Surrey, roads were empty and motorbikes constantly broke down.

Behind The Scenes In The Vintage Years is a unique and rather fascinating record of an unrepeatable era in British motorcycling and engineering history. To be sure, it’s a decidedly friendly and inviting book, that’ll admittedly, primarily appeal to a certain elite: that of a most pronounced and similar persuasion to that of Torrens himself.

Its eighteen chapters traverse the history of what it was like to ride hundreds of miles round Britain on reliability trials, and how Arthur Bourne provided weekly guidance for thousands of youngsters on two wheels – young engineers such as Edward Turner and Phil Vincent.

He furthermore writes of Brooklands and TT races on the Isle of Man, along with his experience(s) of the Second World War, where he enabled the airborne forces at Arnhem to be equipped with ‘lightweight’ motorcycles that could be dropped by parachute or flown in by glider! So in all, this is something of a rather rambunctious story that needs to be told really; which, along with assorted black and white newspaper clippings and photographs, provides for an altogether delightful, although at times, enlightening read.

For instance, in the fifteenth chapter (‘Motor Cycles In War’), Bourne writes: ”But for the Nazis telling the Dutch distributors of D.K.W.s that either they got rid of their Jewish directors or they would have no more D.K.W.s., there would not have been one of the 12,000 and more British wartime ‘Flying Fleas.’ I would not have the letter from 3 Div, one of the two assault divisions on the Normandy Beaches, saying ”They (600 of them) are just the thing for the job,” there would have been no Fleas for controlling the landing of supplies on the Beaches. B.S.A.s would not have had their highly successful post-War B.S.A Bantan and there would not have been the gifts from Royal Enfield and James of reconditioned Fleas that enabled the RAC/ACU ‘Training Scheme for Learner Motor Cyclists to get going.”

Arthur Bourne, who used the pseudonym ‘Torrens’ for readers of the best-selling weekly The Motor Cycle, was most definitely in the thick of a garrulous game – of which these 308 pages are a mere glimpse.

David Marx

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With The Red Devils at Arnhem

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With The Red Devils at Arnhem
By Marek Swiecicki
Helion & Company – £17.96

I’m just in the midst of reading Alexandra Richie’s rather excellent and all expansive Warsaw 1944 – The Fateful Uprising, which, all things told, is relative to this book so far as Polish heroism and blatant, naked courage is concerned. Both books underline the degree to which the Polish nation paid the ultimlate price for freedom during the Second World War; a freedom they never actually saw – until just recently – due to Joseph Stalin’s vile tactics and and the West’s ultimate betrayal.

While Warsawians were not only fighting for their beloved city but their very lives, their brethern were simultaneously being parachuted into the Dutch city of Arnhem, which, as many a historian will testify, remains a much-studied and analysed battle to this very day. In fact, had the Polish and British Parachute Brigades secured the bridges over The Rhine, it’s believed several of the ghastly concentration camps in Germany (and to a degree, central Poland) might have been liberated a lot sooner.

But as this revealing and overtly personal account makes clear, it just wasn’t to be.

German forces remained a tough and very formidable fighting force, even with the outcome of the war a foregone conclusion. With The Red Devils at Arnhem is testimony to this, which, although written in the present tense throughout, continues to stand up as one man’s vivid account of what must surely have been a more than fraught and harrowing experience: ”We were struck by a glaring, terrifying,crimson light. Everything all around us was on fire. The neighbouring villages were blazing, the forest was blazing. Over our heads mortar shells burst, scattering thousands of pieces of shrapnel around us. The air was vibrating with the whistle and, hiss of artillery shells. The fallen trees made our way difficult, branches entangled our feet, deep craters forced us to change our direction every minute or two, or to leap across and go round the road of our retreat.

We plunged into a shallow depression and could not stir a yard in any direction. We were framed by arrowing explosions, repeated with terrifying monotony always in the same spots. Our guide went on ahead, but a moment later he fell to the bottom of the hole, struck by shrapnel. Someone else took over the lead, but he shared his predecessor’s fate.”

Marek Swiecicki, a Polish war correspondent attached to the Polish Parachute Brigade, has herein written his own revelatory account of what took place around the Dutch city of Arnhem in September 1944. Replete with a number of very telling black and white photographs, this book is surprisingly fresh, just as it is succinct in both translation and literary maner.

David Marx

D-Day to Berlin – The Long March to Victory

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D-Day to Berlin – The Long March to Victory

Edited by David Edwards

Haynes Publishing – £25.00

I used to live in the French, Normandy town of Dieppe, just around the corner from the beach in fact; and when I’d go running, I’d always pass by the plaque that commemorates the ill-fated ‘The Dieppe Raid,’ which took place in August 1942. That it was a mighty Allied failure, probably accounts for it not being particularly well-known in England and America, although in France, those who lost their lives are honoured each and every year without fail.

That said, I’m pleased the ‘The Dieppe Raid ‘ has been fully acknowledged in D-Day To Berlin – The Long March To Victory, as it’s surely more than just a footnote with regards ridding mainland Europe of the ghastly Nazi curse.

As is written in ‘D for Dieppe Day’ on page thirty-three of this rather all important book: ”For all the talk, there was one burst of Allied action in Western Europe. It came on 19 August 1942. Vice-Admiral Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, was keen to test his forces against real opposition, so devised and won approval for a raid on a French port heavily defended by the occupying German army. Some 6,000 Allied troops – 5,000 of them Canadian, the rest British – took part in the mission. Three thousand Allied Servicemen were killed in a single day in a disastrous defeat, although contemporary reports put a more positive spin on events. Lessons would have to be learned, and tactics greatly improved, before Allied soldiers would once again be put on French beaches.”

”Three thousand Allied Servicemen […] killed in one day” would be unthinkable today.

In fact, it’s almost impossible, if not inconceivable, to think of such an amount of people being killed in just ONE day. But then, thanks to all those who so courageously gave their lives, we do (luckily) live in a totally different world. This rather harsh realisation is brought to bear, time and time again throughout this intrinsically necessary, and might I add, marvellously put together book.

Edited by David Edwards – who over a period of twenty years, has written for The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Independent and The Times – this photographic/journalistic assimilation of reports drawn from The Daily Mirror depicts what the D-Day Landings on the Normandy beaches must have really been like. Although it doesn’t just stop there, as following the initial landings, we stumble upon contemporary reports of the liberation of Paris and Brussels, not to mention the desperate German retaliation at The Battle of The Bulge and the Dutch city of Arnhem: ”Worst ordeals of the nightmare siege at Arnhem were attacks by flame-throwers, which scared the Airborne out of their trenches and houses, according to 30-year-old Lance-Corporal John Stillwell, of Ballance-road, Hackney Wick, one of the men who came back. ”I prayed to God I would live to see Hackney Wick again – and I never believed I should,” said Stillwell, wrapped up in an Army blanket.”

Moreover, it’s the countless black and white photographs that do most of the talking, which in all honesty, I can’t recommend highly enough.

That the book is also augmented by a number of important maps and Daily Mirror cartoons that are as equally political as they are prosaic, amounts to D-Day to Berlin – The Long March to Victory being a gritty yet simultaneously poignant depiction of the liberation of Europe – which really ought not be forgotten.

David Marx