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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Righteousness and humidity

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Yankee Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is found wounded in the Virginia woods by schoolgirl Amy (Oona Laurence) and brought to Miss Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies. Prim and proper Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) tends to McBurney’s leg wound in the name of Christian charity and, as he recovers, they all vie for his affections by dressing to impress and offering gifts and banquets in their isolated mansion with its candles and Doric columns. The enemy soldier, using sly charm, disrupts their genteel routine of French lessons, prayer, sewing and music until matters come to a shocking head. McBurney fled the gunpowder and shot of a Civil War battlefield only to discover southern hospitality can also be deadly with its righteousness and humidity. Writer-director Sofia Coppola channels southern gothic in her screen adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel. It made me want to revisit Don Siegel’s 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood as the wounded Yankee.

Speedy Morph

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Pic: aardman.com

Pioneer stop-go animator Peter Lord demonstrated dexterity bordering on the subliminal when fashioning a Morph out of a ball of Plasticine while giving a Festival of Ideas lecture in York.
This festival version of his popular comic character, known to millions of TV viewers, attracted bids from the audience, thereby raising £600 for charity.
Lord, who studied at the University of York, is co-founder and creative director of Aardman, the award-winning animation studio in Bristol known for Wallace & Gromit, Shaun The Sheep, Creature Comforts and Chicken Run as well as Morph.
Aardman started as a two-man venture in 1972 and now employs hundreds of people, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of creative talent. Lord told the packed audience at Bootham School this evening (June 7) that the studio’s success was his proudest achievement.

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.

The past is a different country

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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.

Barbershop pain & memories

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WRESTLING FAN: Edward Brooks as a young man

My ears are still smarting 24 hours after visiting my local barber. Rather than trim them, he used thread to remove the hair by its roots. Ouch!

Taken completely by surprise, I was not prepared for the pain, which was eye-watering. Pride compelled me to keep silent as my barber went about his task with great dexterity. I spent an uncomfortable few minutes in his chair as my extraneous earlobe hair was removed. I broke into a cold sweat and could see myself in the large mirror opposite desperately trying to keep a poker face; I just about pulled it off… as my barber pulled it out.

Unexpected memories flashed through my mind as I coped with the pain; for instance, when Mr Leece, my primary school teacher, threw a piece of chalk at me for not paying attention in class. It clipped my right ear; I was hurt more by the shame than the pain. Teachers were allowed to throw improvised missiles at pupils in those days (the 1960s); there would be hell to pay if they did it now.

Another barbershop memory concerned the wrestler Mick McManus. The Achilles’ Heel of this Saturday afternoon villain was, so to speak, his ears; he didn’t like his opponents touching them. When he retired from the ring, McManus, known as “the Dulwich Destroyer”, became a connoisseur of antique porcelain. I recall thieves targeting his sought-after collection when I worked as a reporter for a news agency in Surrey.

McManus reminds me of the time when I interviewed fellow wrestler Shirley Crabtree (aka Big Daddy) for Red Rose Radio as he prepared for a bout in Preston.  I asked him if wrestling was fixed; he looked me in the eye and said “No”. Coincidently, I was getting my hair cut the next day when my interview was broadcast on the radio playing in the background. My barber was incredulous; at least he avoided clipping my ear with his scissors as he reacted to Crabtree’s robust denial.

Crabtree turned out to be a decent bloke. I told him my elderly grandfather, Edward Brooks, was a big wrestling fan so he wrote a personal note that grandpa treasured for the rest of his life. It read: “To Eddie, Keep punching, from Big Daddy”.