Dunkirk veteran saluted

160606JackDanbyHelmet.jpg
Jack Danby shows the bullet hole in his D-Day helmet

Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk tells the story of the British Army’s miraculous escape from the advancing German army from three perspectives: Land, Sea and Air. In weaving together three different timelines, Nolan successfully depicts the chaos of what was a colossal military defeat; the viewer is plunged right into the middle of the action where the fear and tension is amplified by Hans Zimmer’s intense musical score.
This movie is timely as, more than 75 years after the rescue that entered British folklore, so few Dunkirk veterans remain. One who has passed away is Jack Danby, of Selby. He survived Dunkirk and, four years later, returned to France in the first wave of D-Day where he was nearly killed; while trying to rescue a wounded comrade, a German bullet passed through his helmet inflicting a flesh wound.
Watching Dunkirk brought home to me the bravery of men like Jack. After the war, Jack was headmaster of four different schools in the East Riding where, after experiencing the horror of Dunkirk and D-Day, his motivation was to help build a better post-war world. His distinguished service included 12 years as the first head of Etton Pasture boarding school for disabled children; his pioneering work there was recognised by the award of an MBE in 1965.

The last philosopher king

170611Stalin

Stalin And The Scientists by Simon Ings describes how the Bolsheviks promoted science in their quest to create a socialist utopia.
Scientists and engineers were the heroes of the Soviet Union and enjoyed privileges not available to the common people. They were well paid and allocated good housing; they enjoyed holidays at the Black Sea resorts and their children went to special schools.
The author said the Bolsheviks believed science could be applied to solve the human predicament; however, they adopted a simplistic approach to science by stripping away its philosophy. They did not understand how difficult science was. This led to failures on a monstrous and heroic scale in which famine ravaged the land.
The Soviet Union’s elite were fans of science. However, as fans they secretly resented what they purported to love because they were not doing it.
Ings spoke about his book at the University of York, this afternoon (June 11) during the city’s Festival of Ideas. He told his audience in the Ron Cooke Hub that Stalin was the last of the philosopher kings. “He was painfully aware that he had to know everything in order for his rule to be legitimate. He felt he had to earn that.”
Purges spawned by paranoia added to the potent political brew, with Ings adding: “Stalin was sufficiently smart that he sent himself mad.”

A rum do

170513JamesSandilands
James Sandilands, aka Sandy

“If my men are going to meet their maker, they will meet Him sober.”
So said Colonel James Sandilands, known as Sandy, after he had controversially deprived the 7th Cameron Highlanders of their traditional tot of rum as they prepared to go “over the top” at the start of the Battle of Loos in 1915.
The regiment took heavy casualties during the attack; Sandy averted disaster by rallying the troops and ordering them to dig in on the reverse slope of Hill 70 after watching many of his men cut down by German machine gun fire as they advanced down the other side of the hill.
However, after the battle, the survivors talked more about the lack of rum rather than their appalling losses; they were still indignant that Sandy had ordered his sergeants to up end the jars and pour the precious liquid away prior to the dawn attack.
Members of the Yorkshire Branch of the Western Front Association gathered at Manor School, York, this afternoon to hear Terry Dean give a talk about Sandy, entitled Monty’s Mentor.
His lecture was an engrossing combination of text, audio, maps, video clips and photographs that brought to life Sandy’s distinguished military career.
Sandy was mentioned in despatches for bravery as a young subaltern during the Mahdist War in Sudan in the 1890s and was badly wounded in the Second Boer War; one of his NCOs won the Victoria Cross for carrying him to safety while under heavy fire, thereby saving his life.
Sandy was promoted from Captain to Brigadier-General during the Great War; one of his protégées was Captain Bernard Montgomery who later found fame as a Field Marshal during the Second World War. Monty said Sandy “was the best general I ever served under” and the two men kept in touch.
As a Major-General, Sandy was appointed Commander of British Troops in South China in 1929 and retired in 1933. When war broke out in 1939 he was a founder member of the Camberley Home Guard in Surrey.
Sandy died in September 1959, aged 85 with associates recalling the modesty of this very gallant and distinguished soldier.

The past is a different country

170402SenseOfAnEnding

A retired divorcee, living alone, re-evaluates his life after a mysterious legacy sends him on a fraught journey down memory lane. Jim Broadbent is excellent as the curmudgeon haunted by his past in a screen adaptation of The Sense Of An Ending, the finely honed novel by Julian Barnes. I enjoyed the movie at York City Screen today.

Musical storytelling

170312FrankiePresto

What is it like to be a gifted musician? This question is explored by the bestselling author Mitch Albom in his novel The Magic Strings Of Frankie Presto. It tells the story of a young orphan born into a Spain torn apart by civil war. The boy learns to play guitar and flees death and destruction to end up in the United States where he has encounters with Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Elvis Presley and Little Richard. Frankie eventually retreats from soulless fame and fortune to live a life of obscurity. But his legend refuses to wither and die – despite his best efforts.
What makes this novel memorable is its narrator: Music. Another of Albom’s creative coups was persuading the likes of Burt Bacharach, Roger McGuinn, Lyle Lovett, Tony Bennet and Paul Stanley, of the rock band Kiss, to bear witness to their part in Frankie’s incredible story – hinting at how his musicianship influenced theirs. The Magic Strings Of Frankie Presto is an inspired work of fiction that strives to articulate the essence of music; its rigorous technique and potent emotion. The novel even has its own musical companion to enhance its atmospheric storytelling.

Bishop’s move

170220richardhollowayweb

Richard Holloway, the former head of the Anglican Church in Scotland who stopped believing in God, does not like being called an atheist because he “doesn’t do certainty”; if you must stick a label on him, he would suggest “expectant agnostic”.
He told a packed audience at York Explore Library last night (20/02/2017) he was fascinated by three questions that had taxed philosophers and theologians for centuries:

What are we?
Where do we come from?
Where are we going?

In promoting his latest book A Little History Of Religion, the former bishop argued there were four approaches those questions:

Strong Religion: Humankind’s encounter with God was all truthful, all actual, all real. This fundamentalist approach left no room for doubt.

Critical Realism: There was an encounter with God but, due to human fallibility, we must be modest about the claims we make. It adopted a fluid approach to history.

Post Religion: (non-realism): This approach was sympathetic to religion; it regarded it as a colossal work of the imagination that spoke to the human condition in the same way as great works of art, such as an opera, play or novel. You can be a religious belonger without being a religious believer; it can challenge you to be a better person.

No religion: These people don’t get religion. They ask the question: “Why waste your time with it?” Some in this camp were benign while others, such as Richard Dawkins, attacked religion with vigour and a certain amount of anger by adopting, ironically, a religious, evangelical approach.

Holloway ended his stimulating talk by referring to Yehudah Amichai’s poem:

The Ecology of Jerusalem

The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers and dreams
like the air over cities with heavy industry.
It’s hard to breathe.

And from time to time a new shipment of history arrives.
Houses and towers serve as packing materials
later thrown away and piled in heaps.

Sometimes candles come in place of people.
Then it’s quiet.
Sometimes people come in place of candles.
Then there’s noise.

Amid enclosed gardens, among jasmine bushes
replete with balsam, foreign consulates,
like wicked brides who were thrust aside

lie in wait for their moment.

Morality Play

170218themachinestops

The Machine Stops explores our complex relationship with technology. The play, presented at York Theatre Royal this week, is based on a chilling and prophetic short story by the acclaimed writer E.M. Forster, published in 1909. The barren earth forces people to live underground in an intricate honeycomb of individual cells. The essentials of life are provided by an omnipotent, self-repairing machine, leaving people with nothing to do but communicate with each other using a system reminiscent of the worldwide web. Physical contact and travel is frowned upon; individuals live a solitary, insulated life, seldom venturing from their hexagonal cells. Ideas are constantly recycled; consequently there is no creativity; original thinking withers on the vine. The moral of this agile stage adaptation, with its haunting electronic soundscape, is: “Humankind cannot live by technology alone.”