Tag Archives: 1919

Book Review – Riding in the Zone Rouge

Riding in the Zone Rouge

Zone Rouge cover

Author: Tom Isitt

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: W&N (21 Mar. 2019)

ISBN-10: 1409171140

ISBN-13: 978-1409171140

 

In May 1919 they had a cycle race in France and Belgium, taking in the battlefields and severely testing the endurance of the participants, many of whom had only just returned from the army.

This book describes the race and sets it against a modern cycling tour following the route, along with a travelogue based on the two wars fought in the area – the Franco-Prussian War and the Great War.

I haven’t been on a bike for forty years, but I like travel books and I’m very interested in history, particularly the events of 1919, so it was an obvious choice.

Cycle racing is tough these days. A hundred years ago it was tougher, with longer stages, rudimentary equipment and a ban on accepting outside help, whether from blacksmiths, teams or competitors. With the added hazards of war-ravaged roads and unseasonably bad weather it became less of a sporting event and more an endurance test. Despite many of the seemingly petty rules, there was no law against the use of performance-enhancing drugs (strychnine and cocaine in those days). This must have been a great comfort to the racers, particularly when weather conditions meant that several of them had to use battlefield ruins for a few hours sleep and shelter.

Most of the references to modern cycling went right over my head, though the contrast between the bikes and clothing of 1919 and 2019 is an eye-opener.

The Zone Rouge covered 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) in 1919. Even today it still covers 100 square kilometres (about the area of Paris). To be honest, I didn’t even know it still existed, or how the French and Belgians went about reconstructing their country. I am now better-informed about this, and a number of other subjects.

It’s a well written book by an experienced journalist and as such it has flow and pace and is a genuine page turner.

My least favourite parts of the book are the made up conversations between the racers. I’m sure they are accurate reflections of the conversations that would have been held, but they do blur the line between fact and fiction. As a device it works well and moves the narrative along, but I’m never happy with it in a history book. This is, however, a minor quibble and if this was the sort of review that gave stars I would give it five out of five.

This is the second post of the day, as it has been in preparation for the last few days. Unfortunately, politics intruded and although it gave me material for posts about judgement and a Fifty Foot Johnson I thought I’d go ahead anyway, rather than let it get lost in the unused drafts.

Trousers, Tanks and Troubles

This morning, poised like an elegant crane, I stood on one leg, pointed my toes and slipped my right leg into my trousers. I then did the same with my other leg.

This would have seemed unremarkable a few years ago, but one of the things I seem to have lost over the years is the ability to put my trousers on while standing up. This morning, and the my resemblance to a tai chi master, is not typical.

Normally, Julia tells me, I look like a drunken tramp playing hopscotch. This is partly because I have dodgy joints and partly because I have the wardrobe and facial hair of a man who has seen better days. The joints have been particularly bad in the last week and there have been a couple of days when it looked like the trousers might win.

Fortunately time, rest and paracetamol seem to have done the trick. I didn’t report this earlier in the week as I was already moaning about my man flu. It’s important, I think, not to seem like a complete hypochondriac when blogging. The same goes for food reviews – I only report on virtuous recipes and leave out quite a lot of fried food and cake.

This is also the case with The Presentation, which has eight days to go. Though I tend to report it as a linear process it is more of a zig-zag, and I am struggling to finish. I have a few photos to do, a couple of slides to finish and quite a lot of information to trim.

I have already cut a lot out of the script, but there’s still more to do. It sent Julia to sleep when I talked her through it in the car and I’m afraid that if that is the case it might adversely affect the wakefulness of a group of elderly gents sitting in the semi-darkness.

I am fascinated by the events of 1919, but I don’t suppose this fascination will be shared by everyone. The Government put tanks on the streets to keep order in Glasgow and Liverpool, troops mutinied, revolution was in the air and, as the Irish started their final war against the English, they embarked on a series of Soviets and dairy-based resistance to their capitalist oppressors.

At that point, even I start to run out of interest…

 

 

Only 51 weeks until Christmas!

Yesterday, one of the customers told me the fact I have used in the title. It makes the year seem rather short.

This, in turn, lead me to calculate the length of time before Spring starts. Just 56 days. That, of course, is only half the story. Meteorological Spring may start on 1st March according to the scientists, but the weather doesn’t always agree.

My parents were married at the end of March and, as they told me for 60 years, it snowed.

One thing you can rely on is the daylength. It’s already feeling longer than it did (and it is actually ten minutes longer than it was on the shortest day). This means that it is lighter when we leave the shop, which makes a big psychological difference. On 29th February, in Nottingham, the day will be over three hours longer than it is now. Even the thought of it is enough to cheer me up.

It’s a sobering insight into the shortness of life. The days of wine and roses are indeed not long…

deer3

I was watching the Christmas University Challenge Final tonight and found myself doing quite well against a number of people with high-powered jobs and multiple degrees. The main difference between us, apart from my lack of degree and a job as a shop assistant, is that I suspect they all had confidence, plans ambition and productive work habits. I’ve just spent Christmas watching TV and playing Candy Crush when I should have been writing a best-seller and running an eBay business.

Ah well…

I did manage to get the outline of my presentation done. I have quite a lot of material on 1919 and went through it, with suitable reference to mutinies, Russia, Ireland, strikes, riots, war memorials and the Baltic.

Happy at the breadth and depth of my knowledge, and my grasp of the subject matter, I was alerted to the fact that this feeling was not universal by a gentle snore from Julia’s direction.

It looks like I’m going to have to do some editing.

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UK £5 2017

Today’s pictures are all recycled, with vague links to Christmas and 1919.

When Things Go Wrong…

Have you ever noticed that when something goes wrong, more problems follow? Say, for instance, that you fall asleep in front of the TV and wake up with just thirty posting minutes before midnight, the computer seems to slow down and photos refuse to load.

Well, that’s the sort of night I’m currently having.

I’m posting now, then I’m going back to write the rest of the post and add photos, so if you’ve read so far and there is nothing more to read you may want to come back in twenty minutes.

I started off with a blood test, arriving at 7.20 to find a longer queue than usual and a notive on the wall telling me that the average wait last month was 12 minutes. This is three minutes (or 25%) longer than the nine minutes claimed last time. Or 33% depending which number you start with – I’ve never quite understood which is the right way round. It didn’t matter, because the actual wait was over twenty minutes.

It seemed longer because I’d forgotten my glasses. I’ve broken two sets recently and the situation regarding spares is getting tricky. As in, I have no spares. The current position is that I have misplaced two sets and broken two, which just leaves me with one set – the ones that make me look like Clark Kent.

OK, I look like Clark Kent in an alternative universe where he looks like a well-worn version of Santa Claus, but the glasses are similar.

I’m now waiting for the results.

We had a reasonably active day, with twelve parcels after which I visited friends and went home early to do a few jobs. These included drinking tea, watching Pointless and doing a little light snoozing.

I also started listing my collection of Peace and Tribute medals from the Great War as I’m doing a talk on them for the Numismatic Society next year. Yes, 2020, a year after the centenary of the Peace Celebrations in 2019. I have a gift for timing.

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Huddersfield Peace Medal.

I’m gathering information at the moment, which is where I’ve been all night – head stuck in the internet looking for interesting anecdotes about Peace Medals. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait for next year as I don’t want to use all my material in advance of the big day.

Did I mention that I don’t like public speaking? My aversion to public speaking is greater than my combined aversion to working, spending money or eating salad. Yes, I’d rather work as a buyer in a salad factory than give a talk. The only thing that outweighs this is my vanity.

There are basically two types of medal that come under the Peace Medal banner – the cheap white metal ones given out to children as part of the Peace Day Celebration and the better quality ones given to returning servicemen to thank them for their service.

I mentioned in a previous post that things did not go well at all Peace Day Celebrations. The ones in Luton, for instance, went spectacularly wrong.

Here are two examples of the different sorts of medal.. They are all larger than life size.

Plymouth Peace Medal for School children.

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Washington & Barmston Tribute Medal

Washington & Barmston Tribute Medal in silver and enamel. Note that the town gave rise to a famous surname, and the coat of arms was used, according to informed conjecture, to have been used in the design of the Stars and Stripes.

Peace Medals

When all the fighting was done, the UK decided to have a national Peace Celebration. The selected day was Saturday 19th July 1919. This was a little optimistic as the Great War was not officially over when they started the planning, and we were still engaged fighting the Bolsheviks in Russia. We were also still fighting amongst ourselves, with mutinies in Southampton, Calais and Kinmel and tanks on the streets of Glasgow.

There was trouble during the celebrations too, with the riot at Luton being the best known. The town museum, as I remember from a visit many years ago, has a livelier version of events than The Guardian. They blame trouble between the The Discharged Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Federation and the Comrades of the Great Warfollowed by a riot which involved looting a piano shop and playing Keep the Home Fires Burning after setting fire to the Town Hall. The two ex-service organisations had different political outlooks, the Comrades of the Great War being set up as a right wing alternative to The Discharged Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Federation. Eventually they were to resolve their differences and become founder organisations of the British Legion.

Part of the Peace Celebrations featured the giving of medallions, often in white metal, to local school children. Unlike 1911, Nottingham didn’t produce a medal. The Nottingham Peace Celebrations provided sports, cinema visits, fancy dress parades and teas for 30,000 children, though there is no mention of medals, apart from sports prizes.

Some places provided generic medals, though others were specifically made for individual towns and villages. The Derby Peace Medal in the header page is one of the better examples of design – featuring the badge of the local regiment.

The Sheffield medal is more typical, with a generic figure of Peace on one side and the city coat of arms on the other side.

The Birmingham medal is slightly better from the design point of view – I’ve always liked this representation of Victory. It features on a generic peace medal, with an agricultural scene on the reverse, which was the first of these medals I ever had (given to me by my grandfather back in the 1970s).

This is the obverse and reverse of the Derby medal.

Note: I’ve added a link to the previous post to access a picture of the 1911 silver steward’s jewel.