Friday, 14 May 2010
As part of the continuing preparations for moving house, I opened another battered cardboard box to see what was inside. I found a collection of research notes/notebooks that I had purchased for a few pounds at an antiques fair. They had been compiled by the British military historian Alexander McKee (1918-1992). According to Wikipaedia, he served in the Army during the Second World War and wrote articles for Army newspapers and became a writer/producer for the British Forces Network [military radio overseas]. His notable books include The Race for Rhine Bridges, Strike from the Sky, Caen: The Anvil of Victory and Dresden 1945: The Devils Tinderbox. An amateur diver, he became famous for his discovery of King Henry VIII's flagship Mary Rose for which he was awarded the OBE.
So, why do I mention this lucky find? Well, I was reading the Guardian newspaper's online media section and saw a reference to a memoir on Cornelius Ryan entitled The Reporter who Time forgot. Ryan wrote the bestselling book about D-Day - The Longest Day - and this four page memoir tells something of the researches he made for his books - how he did it and how much he expended on books on the subject. Quite remarkable, and for most people unaffordable. It is well worth taking the time to read this piece which appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review.
Read the blog that mentioned it as a taster here and the article itself here. I'd be interested in your comments on Ryan's research methods. Quite fascinating.
The photo by the way is of medics attending to wounded in the shelter of a Churchill AVRE from 5th Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers. It was taken on Sword Beach on D-Day 6 June 1944 by Sgt Jimmy Mapham of the Army Film and Photographic Unit. My uncle was a crewman on one of these - could it be his vehicle? I don't know. He had a number of lucky escapes. In trialling amphibious tanks before D-Day, his was one of two to be driven into a deep lake. The first tank sank - all died and his was stopped on the edge of the water. On D-Day, coming off the beach, his was the second AVRE. The first sank into a culvert and his drove over it to safety. Later, in preparing for crossing a river in Germany, he was part of the crew of a Buffalo troop carrier. The first vehicle was swept away in the current and the crew and troops it was carrying were drowned. His vehicle reached the opposite bank and . . . safety! This could well explain why he rarely slept at night until the end of his days.