Dunkirk veteran saluted

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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.

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Churchill’s black dog

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Winston Churchill has entered British folklore as the statesman who saved Great Britain in its darkest hour when the country stood alone against Nazi Germany.
But Churchill was not the invincible warlord that he liked to portray to the British public with his “V for Victory” salute, morale-boosting oratory, homburg hat and trademark cigar.
He suffered from depression, dubbed his “black dog”, which he self-medicated by consuming prodigious amounts of alcohol.
Brian Cox brings out this private vulnerability in Churchill, a movie depicting the Prime Minister during the final days before the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Churchill tries to persuade General Dwight Eisenhower, the American Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, to call off D-Day because he fears the amphibious assault will end in disaster as it did at Gallipoli during the First World War. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill felt responsible for Gallipoli and the ghost of its failure still haunted him 30 years later.
Cox puts in a bravura performance as Churchill; Miranda Richardson also impresses as his formidable wife, Clementine. However the film is flawed mainly due to a screenplay that condenses Churchill’s concerns about D-Day into the final hours before its launch.

Emotional rollercoaster

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The film Frantz explores that fraught emotional landscape… the immediate aftermath of the Great War.
Anna, a young German woman, is mourning the loss of her fiancé, Frantz, killed on the Western Front fighting the French. She lovingly tends his grave in the picturesque churchyard of her home town even though his corpse remains on the battlefield in an unmarked grave – the fate of so many soldiers.
The town’s residents, still trying to come to terms with Germany’s catastrophic defeat, are piqued when a mysterious visitor starts visiting Frantz’s grave.
Anna eventually gets to know Adrien, a battle-scarred veteran of the French army, who reveals that he knew her fiancé. Their fledgling friendship sets in motion a chain of events that took this filmgoer on an emotional rollercoaster at York City Screen this evening.
Director François Ozon has created a sumptuous period drama and Paula Beer excels as its main protagonist, Anna, ably supported by Pierre Niney as Adrien.

A rum do

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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.

A chamber piece

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British director Terence Davies explores the inner life of Emily Dickinson, the reclusive 19th century American poet, in his latest movie. A Quiet Passion is a carefully composed chamber piece; most of the scenes are shot in dimly-lit rooms where revealing close-ups contrast with group shots conveyed by imaginative 360-degree pans. The outside world is kept at bay until the genteel domesticity is jolted when the director suddenly uses graphic colour photographs of dead soldiers lying on the battlefield to depict the American Civil War. Spinster Emily (Cynthia Nixon) writes her vigorous and emotional poems in the wee small hours so as not to disrupt her family’s domestic routine. The script is punctuated by Dickinson’s poetry, recited by Nixon. A Quiet Passion is a lyrical homage to a great poet who found fame only after her death.

An imaginative tour de force

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Lincoln In The Bardo is an extraordinary debut novel by acclaimed short-story writer George Saunders. It was inspired by newspaper reports about a grief-stricken Abraham Lincoln visiting a crypt alone one night in February 1862 to hold the corpse of his beloved son, Willie, who had died of typhoid fever, aged 11. The American President entered that dark, lonely place on the verge of a breakdown, barely able to cope with the incessant demands of leading a nation at war with itself. He leaves that crypt a changed man; charged with resolution and empathy, he is determined to win the bloody civil war and end slavery. This epiphany, according to the author, was down to the influence of lost souls lingering in a supernatural realm known, in Tibetan tradition, as the bardo. Saunders populates this realm with freakish characters that will live long in the memory. It’s is a remarkable feat of the imagination and, as a play for numerous voices, this novel will work brilliantly as an audio book.

War-time cinema

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Their Finest is a movie set in the dark days of the Second World War when Britain stood alone after the defeat of France and the Nazis were trying to bomb London into submission.

Life during the Blitz is precarious as Londoners cope with meagre rations, shattered buildings, dingy bomb shelters and losing loved ones. Many escape this harrowing routine by going to the cinema.

What’s needed is a rousing movie to lift the nation’s flagging spirits. Backed by the Ministry of Information, three writers hammer out a script on clunking typewriters about the miracle of Dunkirk, focusing on twin sisters who absconded with their father’s boat to help evacuate British soldiers from the beach.

Welsh valley girl Catrin (Gemma Arterton) is hired to write dialogue for the female characters (aka “slop”) and it is her highly-charged relationship with fellow scriptwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) that gives the movie its emotional heft. However, Bill Nighy steals the show with his entertaining portrayal of Ambrose Hilliard, a fading matinee idol desperate to make the most of the limelight.

Adapted from Lissa Evans’s 2009 novel Their Finest Hour And A Half, the movie portrays the war-ravaged London with a deft touch where the making of a propaganda film offers ample opportunity for both comedy and tragedy. I enjoyed watching Their Finest at Vue Cinema, York, last night.