Articles


. It’s the summer of 1953, and, across East Germany, angry people take to the streets. This isn’t a polite protest. This is a furious, red flag ripping, police beating, office burning rampage. The crowds demand: better living conditions; the reunification of Germany; and free elections. Instead, they would get: Trabants; the Berlin Wall; and another 35 years of hardline Communist government. Could the 17 June […]

Opening the Iron Curtain – the East Germany’s day of dissent  


According to Field Marshal Montgomery, rule number one on the first page of the book of war is ‘do not march on Moscow’. In April 1945, Winston Churchill ordered the British Chiefs of Staff to rip up the rule book and plan for an attack on their wartime ally, Russia. It was audacious, inconceivable and incredibly risky. So, fittingly, it was codenamed Operation Unthinkable. Just how […]

Operation Unthinkable – Churchill’s plan that would have started World War 3



. In August of 1216, the King of Scotland rode down the entire length of England to pay homage to a new English king at Dover. The Scottish monarch bent his knee to a warrior prince who was the pride and hope of his dynasty. His name was Louis and he was the eldest son of the King of France. Louis is overlooked in most lists […]

Louis of England – history’s forgotten King of England  


In the summer of 1550, Princess Mary, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII, was packing her belongings and preparing to flee her home. Her Tudor brother was the figurehead for an increasingly Protestant regime. Mary clung to her mother’s Catholicism. She feared for her life and, as the pressure on her to conform grew, she turned to her powerful relatives abroad. She could be safe again, […]

Princess Mary Tudor’s flight to freedom



. In 1647, the new Puritan government tried to cancel Christmas. People in Canterbury protested in a peculiarly English way, with a destructive game of football followed by a mass brawl. The city’s Plum Pudding Riots led to a royalist revolt throughout Kent and the second round of the Civil War. With Parliamentary armies fighting in Wales and Scotland, could this have marked a revival in fortunes […]

Canterbury’s cancelled Christmas and the Plum Pudding Riots  


. In 1822, Gregor MacGregor committed what The Economist newspaper has called the ‘biggest fraud in history’ and ‘the greatest confidence trick of all time’. Investors, many of them Scottish, put forward vast sums towards creating a colony in central America. They were told it was a sure bet, a land of milk and honey – another paradise on the isthmus. Sounds familiar? If you listened […]

The Prince of Poyais – settling in the country that never was  



. In the first half of 1940 only one question mattered in American politics. Would Franklin D. Roosevelt break with tradition and run for a third term as President of the United States? The New York Times proclaimed it as ‘the all-absorbing political riddle’. Roosevelt kept the country guessing right up until the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in July 1940. On the second day […]

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third term and the voice from the sewer  


. Everywhere you turn, you see the unmistakable face of Adolf Hitler. His voice echoes in your head, broadcast from a thousand loudspeakers. His wild, gesticulating speech is reaching its foam speckled crescendo. Nazi television is everywhere. Looming over city squares, above the concourse of the railway station, on the factory floor and in every home. It is George Orwell’s 1984 made real, and it was […]

Achtung! Achtung! Nazi Germany’s dystopian experiments with TV and radio  



In 1941, Adolf Hitler issued orders to Nazi Germany’s railway officials. He wanted them to develop a new type of railway. It was to be bigger, far bigger, than anything that had ever been seen. Trains the height and width of a suburban house and the length of the Empire State Building would hurtle across the Greater German Reich, from Brest in the west to Bucharest in […]

Hitler’s plan for monster railways across Europe  


  In 1647, the new puritan government tried to cancel Christmas.n 1647, the new puritan government tried to cancel Christmas. People in Canterbury protested in a peculiarly English way with a destructive game of football. The city’s Plum Pudding Riots led to a royalist revolt and the second round of the Civil War.   A second descent into hell On 21 May 1648, 10,000 royalists gathered […]

How an attempt to cancel Christmas and a game of football led ...



Amongst a glittering treasury of splendours, the Habsburgs revered two objects above all others. One was a bowl reputed to be the Holy Grail and the other was a unicorn’s horn.  . A truly Imperial collection The Habsburgs were amongst Europe’s pre-eminent collectors. They collected titles (from the Count of Habsburg to the Holy Roman Emperor with a host of dukedoms, royal and imperial titles in-between), […]

What were the inalienable heirlooms of the Habsburgs?


The Black Death was one of history’s most destructive and transformative disasters. Was it caused by an intentional act of biological warfare?   A modern-day plague The United States was under attack. In New York City, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre had been destroyed. In Washington D.C., a gaping hole was punched into the western side of Pentagon. Americans asked themselves ‘what was […]

The most spectacular incident of biological warfare?



Only one Member of Congress, Representative Jeannette Rankin, voted against the resolution that brought the United States into the Second World War. Astonishingly, she had also voted against American participation in the First World War.   A clear, steady and solitary voice ‘In a clear, steady voice, Rankin voted “No,”. The packed House Chamber erupted with boos and jeers’. President Roosevelt had just addressed the joint […]

Give peace a chance? Congress’s lone World War pacifist


. This week, on the Vaguely Interesting Podcast, we go back to the 1930s and visit the Croydon Airport to meet the Englishman who started the Spanish Civil War. Just after seven o’clock in the morning on 11 July 1936, Captain Cecil Bebb prepared his plane for take-off. At a quarter past seven, Captain Bebb, along with his navigator Major Hugh Pollard and two female friends, […]

The Englishman who started the Spanish Civil War



What happened when steam engines were placed in the tunnels of the world’s first underground railway? The Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863 and, for the first 45 years, it ran steam trains. There are few sounds as emotive as the chug, clatter and whistle of a steam train. Now that the national network is powered by diesel and electricity, we are free to romanticise the age […]

Commuting hell on the underground steam railway


Scores of people died when the airship burst into flames. It crashed into the ground just over 50 miles away from one of the world’s most important cities. Its demise marked the end of a national programme of airship construction and the death of an imperial dream. But this is not about the Hindenburg disaster. Just under seven years earlier, the British faced a similar tragedy […]

A dream that burst into flames – the British Hindenburg disaster



Stirling Castle is a striking, man-made addition to an already formidable natural fortress. Sheer cliffs thrust up from the rolling Scottish Lowlands. The thick castle walls extend these solid quartz-dolerite foundations towards the sky. It is imposing and seems impregnable. It probably was, at least until Warwolf came to visit. . In 1304, Stirling Castle was the last Scottish holdout to the English invasion. Edward I […]

Warwolf – King Edward’s secret weapon to hammer the Scots


On Sunday, Greeks will go to the polls to vote in a crucial referendum. The politics are fraught, the media is frenzied and accusations and recriminations are already flying. The ballot paper has attracted plenty of attention, both inside and outside of Greece. The question is detailed and, to eyes that are unaccustomed to non-Roman alphabets, impenetrable. Some commentators have pointed out that the ‘no’ option […]

Framing the question – history’s lessons for winning and losing referenda