Nothing Lasts Forever: A DNA Story

Looking back at the past is always interesting, at least I’ve always found it so. I love reading about history and I watch lots of TV history documentaries. Shakespeare once said ‘what is past is prologue’ and he was right! One area of the past I’ve been looking into recently was my own and my Christmas present to myself was a DNA test.

I got the test from the website and I received my testing kit just before Christmas and sent it off on the 24th December. I kept checking the website to see if the ancestry people had received it yet but nothing came up. Maybe Christmas Eve wasn’t such a great day to post something so important. Anyway, they finally got the sample and to make things exciting, on the ancestry web site you can see how things are progressing with updates like sample received, sample ready for testing, sample tested, DNA extracted, checking DNA and so on.

While I was waiting for all that to happen, I still seemed to be getting nowhere tracing my great grandfather Patrick Henry Higgins. He is mentioned on my grandfather’s marriage certificate of 1920 as being deceased so clearly he passed away sometime before that date. A distant cousin on the Ancestry site seems to think he was born in Roscommon in Ireland. Perhaps so but Patrick Henry Higginses are ten a penny in that part of the world so I turned my attention to my grandmother who was born Ellen Beresford. I vaguely remember my dad mentioning that he had relatives in the Staffordshire area and that Ellen originally came from there. I know from her marriage certificate that her father was George Beresford, a collier and Ellen was born into a mining community in Leycett, Staffordshire.

A few clicks on the internet and I find that the village of Leycett, as well as having a colliery, also had a miners’ institute, a church, a village shop with off-licence, a post office, a butcher’s, and a railway station. They also had a recreation ground built by the miners which had a cricket and football pitch and later tennis courts and a bowling green.

The colliery closed down in 1957 and by the mid-sixties the main part of the village had been demolished. The terraced houses which formed the main part of the Leycett community are now completely gone.

My grandmother Ellen

My father told me that Ellen left Staffordshire and came to Manchester when she was only young. Dad told me she was ‘in service’ to a rich family. In the census of 1911, when Ellen was 15, I found her registered as a domestic servant to the family of Mr Chilton. His occupation was registered as a beer seller and his address was the Queens Arms on Brunswick Street in Rusholme, Manchester. Brunswick Street runs from Rusholme to Ardwick and today has almost been completely redeveloped. No Queens Arms exists in 2023 which is a little surprising. Back in the late 1970’s I used to travel up and down through Ardwick and  Gorton many times when I was a trainee bus driver at the GM Buses driver training school at Hyde Road. The area was in the process of redevelopment back then and many buildings were being knocked down although it seemed to me that the pubs always seemed to escape the destruction. The Queens Arms sadly did not. Ellen and my grandad were married in Gorton Monastery in 1920 and I suppose it is not inconceivable that the two met in the Queens Arms.

I joined GM Buses in 1976 or 77 and little did I know at the time that Hyde Road was an area that my Grandparents were very familiar with.

Looking at the tips for tracing relatives it seems that the main one is talking to older relatives. My dad died in 2000 and my mother is aged 93 and stricken with dementia and is not in a position to tell me anything, although such are the quirks of memory that when I sometimes show her old pictures, she can sometime name those in the picture and tell me a little of the background. My only other relative, my dad’s sister, is someone I haven’t seen for years although I do have Facebook contact with her daughter, my cousin.

Alas, my messages to her on Facebook had not been answered for a long time although happily I did get a reply from her recently. She didn’t have much to add to our family story except she knew that George Higgins worked for the Manchester Tramways Department at Hyde Road and was injured after something hit him on the head. My brother remembered that it was something that connects the tram to the overhead electric cables. As a result of that he suffered with epilepsy for the remainder of his life. George died in 1954, two years before I was born.

Quite often, I try to rack my brains and think about the memories my dad shared with me years ago. I know he mentioned family in Staffordshire which is how I was able to trace my grandmother’s background. On the ancestry site I use, I found a record of her birth and applied to Staffordshire council for a copy of her birth certificate, hoping that might divulge some further information. One interesting thing that it revealed was that her maiden name and her married name were both Beresford

Eventually my DNA results finally arrived. I can now reveal that I am 56% Northern British and European, 19% Irish, 17% Scottish 6% Swedish and 2% Welsh. The site also threw up 24,785 DNA matches, mostly distant cousins although one of my cousins, the son of my mother’s sister, came up as my closest DNA match. Strangely, not a single person named Higgins was on the list although that only means that few on the Higgins side of the family are interested in DNA testing.

I’m not sure why but I actually wondered whether the DNA test might show up some unknown brother or sister. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much of that TV show Long Lost Family.

A lot of this looking back into the past makes me sometimes wonder about how impermanent our existence seems. Dad used to tell many stories about his time in the army. I honestly think his army life was probably the most exciting thing that ever happened to him. He travelled to Germany, Northern Ireland and Hong Kong. Once he mentioned that he and his best mate who went by the name of ‘Lulu’ Lownes (I’m not sure why he was nicknamed Lulu) were in Hong Kong for a night out. They jumped on a bus or tram at the traffic lights. The bus conductor wasn’t happy and when they went to pay asked them for the full fare, even though servicemen were entitled to either free or reduced fare. Lulu was so upset by this he decided to throw a punch at the conductor and the two of them, Lulu and Dad, jumped off the bus and ran off into the night despite the conductor blowing a whistle and calling for the MPs.

Dad on the left of the picture with two of his army mates.

That must have been back in the 1950s and Dad and presumably Lulu are now long gone. Probably the conductor and driver are gone too as well as the MPs who gave chase. The conductor may have reported the incident and the bus company may have in turn reported the matter to the police. The police officers who dealt with the case, if indeed there was a case, are also long dead as well as the Royal Hong Kong Police themselves as back in 1997 control of Hong Kong was returned to China.

It may be then that only myself and my brother are the only ones who know about this event and the only actual record of it may be in this blog post. One day when I am gone WordPress will send a message to my email asking me to pay the small amount for my dedicated website address, No answer will be forthcoming and will presumably either revert to its original WordPress web address or just vanish into cyberspace.

One day some search engine might flag up this blog post in return to some query about Hong Kong and British servicemen and the researcher will click the link only to find something like ‘502 error: Bad gateway’ or ‘site not found’.

If the researcher is not happy with that, he may wonder who Steve Higgins was and decide to do a further search for Steve Higgins, writer and blogger. Then he might even find my YouTube page. There he will find me, just as I used to be back in the 2020’s asking the viewer to buy Floating in Space or to read my blog posts that may no longer exist.

Nothing lasts for ever.

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Khrushchev, Gorbachev and the Power of Pizza

Khrushchev was the first Soviet leader who tried to humanise the Soviet Union. This huge monolithic state that represented tyranny and state control had been created by Stalin and though Stalin himself brought Khrushchev into his inner circle, it was Khrushchev who later rejected the brutality of the Soviet State.

Khrushchev openly criticised the Stalin era and began a new, more open era of government. Alarm bells had begun to ring in the Kremlin though and by 1964 Khrushchev’s colleagues were not so happy with what he was doing. Brezhnev organised the removal of Khrushchev and soon had taken the top spot for himself.

Brezhnev remained in power till his old age and when he died in 1982 a group of old men successively took over, Andropov 1982-84, then Chernenko 1984-85 and then in 1985 came a younger man, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorbachev felt reforms were necessary and began two initiatives, Perestroika (restructuring) and Glasnost (Openness). He dealt with the issues of war in Afghanistan and the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl. His determination to bring in elected bodies such as the Congress of People’s Deputies and further democratisation of the Soviet Union seemed only to undermine his position. He once dismissed Boris Yeltsin from the Communist party but was forced to deal with him again when he was elected President of Russia.

In 1991 an attempted coup by Communist hard liners failed but this seemed to give the political impetus to Yeltsin. Yetsin banned the Communist party that had once rejected him and soon the Soviet Union collapsed underneath Gorbachev.  He gave a television address to announce that the Soviet Union would formally end at midnight on 31st December, 1991.

Image courtesy Wikipedia creative commons.

In retirement Gorbachev created the Gorbachev Foundation with the aims of publishing material on the history of Perestroika and of presenting his ideas and philosophy to the world. Ironically, although Gorbachev was revered outside of the Soviet Union, within the country his fellow citizens accused him of destroying the economy as well as the communist party.

No longer President, Gorbachev needed money to maintain his foundation and his family and so he undertook to begin lecture tours, charging large amounts of money.  He began to suffer the same fate as many of his fellow former soviet citizens, his pension, 4000 roubles per month, given him by the Russian Federation, was not index linked to inflation and by 1994 his pension cheque was worth very little.

The Foundation began to struggle and even the lecture fees were not enough to pay bills and staff wages. In order to stay in Russia Gorbachev needed money, much more money.

McDonald’s opened in Moscow in 1990 and in that same year Pizza Hut opened its Moscow doors. By 1997, Pizza Hut’s international arm was looking for new ways of reaching out to the public. It wanted a global campaign that would play in any country in the world.

What about a TV ad using Mikhail Gorbachev?

Pizza Hut’s advertising people approached Gorbachev but the negotiations took months. Partly, this represented a negotiating tactic: The longer the negotiations drew out, the higher Gorbachev’s talent fee would be. But it also represented real hesitation on Gorbachev’s part.

However it happened, the core idea of the ad remained stable throughout the long process of negotiating and filming it. It would not focus on Gorbachev but on an ordinary Russian family eating at Pizza Hut. It would be shot on location, featuring as many visual references to Russia as possible.

Gorbachev finally assented but with conditions. First, he would have final approval over the script. That was acceptable. Second, he would not eat pizza on film. That disappointed Pizza Hut.

Gorbachev held firm.

A compromise was suggested: A family member would appear in the spot instead. Gorbachev’s granddaughter Anastasia Virganskaya ended up eating the slice. Pizza Hut accepted.

The advertising concept exploited the shock value of having a former world leader appear. But the ad also played on the fact that Gorbachev was far more popular outside Russia than inside it.

Either way, the former leader of the Soviet Union would be advertising pizza. Gorbachev had lost his presidency and in a sense his country, after all the Soviet Union was gone, replaced by the Russian Federation. I wonder if Gorbachev ever thought for a moment about Nicholas II, another man forced to resign his country’s leadership. Perhaps, perhaps not.

Khrushchev ended his days living in a small dacha in Moscow constantly spied on by the KGB. He wrote his memoirs and they were smuggled out to the west although Khrushchev was forced to deny sending them to a western publisher. He died in 1971.

Gorbachev reportedly received a million dollars for the promotion. The badly needed funds enabled him to pay his staff and continue working for reform in Russia.

Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee

I can’t really remember when I became interested in Red Indians, or to be more precise, Native American Indians. In a way it was an interest in philosophy and the meaning of life that led me to them. I liked the idea of the Great Spirit and the Mother Earth. Those intrinsic ideas of nature and faith greatly appealed to me and showed me a different Indian to the one I have seen on feature films, here was a thoughtful race, in tune with nature. A speech made in 1854 by Chief Seattle has always moved me and in part says this:

This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it.

What more eloquent description of the world and man’s place in it could there be?

Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee is a book by Dee Brown published in 1970. It is a sad book telling a sad tale of murder, lies and ethnic cleansing. It tells the story of a proud race of people driven from their homes by invaders from Europe and forced to leave behind their homes, their memories and their traditions. Much of the book is in the actual words of the Indians whose words were taken down in treaty meetings and councils, by government stenographers.

Columbus arrived in the new world in 1492 and he described the natives at ‘tractable and peaceable’ yet in less than a decade Spaniards had looted and burned villages in their search for gold and treasure, kidnapped men, women and children for sale as slaves and destroyed entire tribes. Things were similar on the east coast of the country. Englishmen landed in 1620 and found the natives friendly and even helpful. They would probably have died during their first winter in America had the natives not showed the newcomers where and how to fish and how to cultivate and plant corn. For several years the Indians and the new white settlers lived in peace but then more and more settlers arrived and settlements in the place the newcomers called New England became more crowded.

in 1625 some of the colonists asked the Indians for more land. The Indians who knew that the land came from the Great Spirit and belonged to no one went through a ceremony to give the English more land. It was more to humour these strange men that the Indians did so but it was the first deed of Indian land to English colonists.

When Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoags died in 1662, his people were being pushed back into the wilderness as so many more Englishmen arrived and their settlements became bigger. The New Englanders flattered the new Indian chief Metacom and crowned him ‘King’. Metacom though made new alliances with other Indian tribes and in 1675 began a war to save the tribes from extinction. The firepower of the colonists however overwhelmed the Indians and Metacom was killed and his head publicly displayed at Plymouth for the next twenty years. His wife and son were sold into slavery.

Over the next two hundred years these events were repeated time and time again as the colonists moved ever westwards. In 1829 Andrew Jackson took office as President of the United States.. He suggested setting an ample district of the country, west of the Mississippi, to be guaranteed to the Indian tribes. On May 28th 1830 Jackson’s recommendations became law. Two years later he appointed a Commissioner of Indian Affairs to see this was carried out and then on June 30th 1834 Congress passed An Act to Regulate Trade and Intercourse with the Indian Tribes and to Preserve Peace on the Frontiers. All the land west of the Mississippi and not part of Missouri, Louisiana or Arkansas would be Indian country. Also, no white persons would be able to trade in the Indian country without a licence and no white persons would be allowed to settle on Indian lands. However, a new wave of settlers surged west and formed the territories of Wisconsin and Iowa and so the Indian frontier was shifted even further west.

At the beginning of the 1860’s the American Civil War began. Perhaps the Indians hoped the white men would destroy each other but it was not to be. The colonists wanted more and more land and the Indians had to cede more and more to the newcomers until there was nothing left for them to give. One thing they would not give was the Black Hills.

The Black Hills were sacred to the Indians. Paha Sapa was the centre of the world, the place where warriors went to speak with the Great Spirit and await visions and where the spirits of their ancestors dwelt. In 1868 the Great Father, the President, considered the hills worthless and gave them to the Indians forever by treaty. Four years later the cry of ‘gold’ was raised and miners and pan handlers made a bee line for the hills. Many were killed or chased out by the Indians but by 1874 gold crazy prospectors were making such a hue and cry that the army decided to send soldiers to the area for a reconnaissance. A thousand pony soldiers of the 7th cavalry marched into the area  commanded by General George Armstrong Custer. Custer had years before slaughtered Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyennes. Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux was not happy. He made complaints to the Great Father in Washington but their response was to send negotiators to buy the Black Hills. Councils were set up with the chiefs of all the tribes in the area but the word was firm. The Black Hills had an importance to the tribes that went beyond money. They would not sell.

The negotiators packed up and returned to Washington. Their recommendation? That congress ignore the wishes of the Indians, take the land and pay a ‘fair equivalent of the value of the hills.’ to the Indians.

On December 3rd the Commisioner of Indian Affairs ordered all Indians to report to their reservations by January 31st. This was impossible as all the tribes were at their winter lodges and many were searching for game to assist with their meagre rations. A mixed band of Oglala Sioux and Northern Cheyennes were hunting Buffalo in the Powder River area. On March the 17th they were asleep in their lodges when a company commanded by Captain James Egan charged through the sleeping camp. At the same time a second troop of cavalry came in from the left flank while a third swept away the Indians’ pony herd. Many were killed. The Indian Teepees were burned with everything inside and the survivors were left with nothing, no food or weapons and only the clothes they were wearing. Later that night while the soldiers camped, the survivors returned and stole back their horses, then without adequate food or clothing they made their way to the camp of Crazy Horse. The Oglala chief took in the survivors and gave them food and shelter.

As the weather warmed the Sioux and Cheyenne decamped in accordance with their treaty rights as hunters. Several thousand Indians of many tribes came together. After an engagement with the forces of General Crook the chiefs decided to move to the valley of the Greasy Grass, or as the Americans called it, the Little Big Horn.

Some minor battles with other US cavalry groups had occurred before the  Little Big Horn engagement, notably with Major Reno. It seems that when the Indians attacked Custer’s 7th Cavalry, Custer meant to break back south and meet up with major Reno’s forces not knowing that they had already been beaten back by Indian forces. Custer also apparently did not realise the true scale of the Indian forces. Five of the 7th Cavalry’s 12 companies were annihilated and Custer was killed, as were two of his brothers, a nephew and a brother-in-law. The total US casualty count included 268 dead and 55 severely wounded (six died later from their wounds).

After the battle the tribes hunted and feasted. Generals Crook and Terry would not attack again until reinforcements arrived. By then, many of the tribes had left for their own reservations and lands and the huge force that had existed before was gone. The Sioux were finally defeated by General Miles in 1877. Threatened with starvation the tribes were forced to finally sell the Black Hills.

One last sad story is one that gave its name to the title of Dee Brown’s book. In December of 1890 a band of Lakota Indians were escorted to the Wounded Knee creek where they camped. The next day Major Whiteside’s regiment was replaced by soldiers of the newly built up regiment once commanded by Custer and now led by Major James Forsyth. Forsyth decided to disarm the Indians and had his troops surround them. He had new Hotchkiss guns set up on a hill to cover the camp.  It is not certain what happened but the next morning one Indian was reluctant to give up his rifle. Soldiers tried to seize the rifle and a shot was heard. Perhaps it was the Indian, Black Coyote, perhaps not. Soldiers then opened fire, shooting indiscriminately. Fighting began but as only a few of the Indians had weapons they were forced to flee. Then the Hotchkiss guns on a hill overlooking the area opened fire, raking the teepees and killing women and children and anyone in their path. 153 were known to be dead but many died later from their wounds.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee tells of the Cheyenne, the Sioux, the Arapaho, the Brules, the Cherokees, the Shoshone and hundreds of others, their names now forgotten. It tells of chiefs like Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Standing Bear, Geronimo, Red Cloud, Cochise and many more. All are gone and few remembered but the Native Americans survive to this day. Many have adapted, many have changed. Most live in poverty on reservations described by observers as being like third world nations.

Today, the Sioux still ask for the return of their lands. In a 1980 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court found that “a more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealing will never, in all probability, be found in our history.” It authorized a settlement now worth nearly $200 million, but ruled that it had no power to return the land. The Sioux live in poverty, yet they refused the pay out.

The Hills, the Indians say, are sacred soil, Wamaka Og’naka I’cante, the heart of everything that is, and not for sale.

The fight for the return of their lands goes on.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is still in print 48 years after its publication in 1970

For more information, read this article in the New York Times or this one on the PBSO news Hour page.

Enjoyed this post? Why not try my book Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977? Watch the video below for a quick taster or click the options at the top of the page for info or to buy!



World War II Mysteries: Himmler and Borman

I noticed something on the TV the other day, a preview of a documentary about Dunkirk, the World War 2 escape of the British and Allied forces across the channel back to the UK. It boasted about newly released files from the time and it made me think, just how much do we know about this conflict that ended in 1945 and how much is still secret?

Two fascinating books illustrate the point.

The Unlikely Death of Heinrich Himmler by Hugh Thomas

Anyone who is interested in history and the events of the second world war will know that Himmler committed suicide after falling into British hands. Himmler, in case you didn’t know was one of Hitler’s leading Nazis and the ruthless head of the German secret police, the Gestapo. You may even have seen the pictures of Himmler’s corpse or even the Pathe newsreel.

The dead man looks like Himmler, as much as any corpse resembles the living person it once was but are the officials telling us all they really know about the event?

To start off with the pictures, the information released by the army said they were snapped moments after the suicide. Not true. Himmler was naked apart from a pair of British issue army socks when he died. He had been separated from his German uniform in case of hidden suicide pills or weapons but he had refused to dress in a British army uniform.

When army staff suspected he had something in his mouth he clamped his teeth down on a cyanide tablet and died while desperate medical staff tried to save him. After his death he was dressed in an army shirt for the cameras and a pair of pince-nez were also clipped to his nose, so the dead body was not photographed straight away as was claimed.

Himmler had been stopped by suspicious soldiers trying to cross a bridge with a crowd of former slave labourers. The man claimed his name was Hinziger. When the soldiers questioned the man’s papers, he and two companions tried to bluster their way out. The soldiers, members of the Black Watch, became suspicious and took the men prisoner.

Was the man really Himmler?

Himmler had been discharged from his duties by Admiral Karl Doenitz who had taken over leadership of the dying Reich after the suicide of Hitler. Hitler himself had learned of Himmler’s betrayal in his last hours for Himmler had been secretly negotiating surrender terms with the allies. Himmler thought perhaps he would have a place in post war Germany or that like others, he could do a deal with the allies in return for secrets or money. Doenitz and Goring both had similar ideas however Goring was sentenced to death at Nuremberg and Doenitz to twenty years imprisonment.

Now neither side had any need of Himmler, a mass murderer, responsible for the concentration camps and the final solution, the mass murder of Jews and others decreed undesirable by the Third Reich.

When Himmler was arrested by the British at Bremervoerde on May 22, 1945, he had disguised himself by shaving off his moustache and had donned an eye patch over his left eye. He was carrying false identity papers.

Himmler succumbed to a cyanide pill on May 23, 1945 and sometime later four British soldiers took his body from a safe house in Luneburg, bundled it into an Army truck and secretly buried it in an unmarked grave on windswept Luneburg Heath. It has never been found.

The author, Hugh Thomas, tells us the story of Himmler’s life and his rise to power and puts forward a compelling case to prove that the supposed corpse of Himmler was not Himmler at all. Prior to the end of the war Himmler, whose power as head of the SS was second only to that of Hitler, transferred huge amounts of loot to foreign bank accounts and fake businesses in order to fund Nazi war criminals in South America and elsewhere. He even contends that Germany’s postwar economic ‘miracle’ was funded by SS loot.

Files on the death of Himmler have been sealed until 2045. Why? Is it because the man who died at Luneburg was an imposter, killed by the British to disguise the fact Himmler was in their hands?

All in all, a fascinating read.

Operation James Bond by Christopher Creighton.

Now with a title like that, you might automatically think this book is a work of fiction, or at least something actually about James Bond or his creator, author Ian Fleming. Well, you’d be wrong. Fleming is involved as it happens, because in WW2 Commander Ian Fleming of the Royal Navy was assigned to Naval Intelligence and Fleming came up with an ingenious plan to spirit Martin Bormann out of Berlin and into allied hands.

According to the book, the operation was given the go ahead by none other than Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the book sports a letter from Churchill to the author giving him the go-ahead to publish his story after Churchill himself was no longer alive.

‘When I die’ wrote Churchill ‘then, if your conscience so allows, tell your story for you have given and suffered much for England. Do not seek to protect me for I am content to be judged by History.’

The author, with Ian Fleming and a small commando raiding party, entered Berlin in its death throes via the rivers Spree and Havel, spirited Bormann away in a small fleet of canoes and arrived on the West Bank of the Elbe to the safety of Allied forces there on May 11th 1945. Bormann had, according to the book, agreed to free up all the Nazi funds hidden in Swiss bank accounts in exchange for his freedom and refuge in England.

Again, according to the author, 95 percent of Nazi funds were recovered and restored to their rightful owners.

Some of the book borders on the fantastic. For instance Creighton maintains that Bormann visited the war crimes tribunal in Nuremberg and heard himself sentenced to death. Major Desmond Morton, the head of the secret M section of Naval Intelligence had escorted Bormann there, suitably disguised, to perhaps see for himself what the alternative was to assisting the allies. Aided by minor plastic surgery Bormann lived on until his late 50s when his health failed and he died aged 59. By then Bormann had been exiled to Paraguay. The secret service then arranged for his body to be interred in Berlin where it was found during excavations in 1972 so preserving the myth that he had died in Berlin.

A thoroughly imaginative and exciting story but whether it is true, remains to be seen.

Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

The Rise and Fall of the Kennedys

The Last brotherThe Last Brother by Joe McGinniss

The Last Brother as you can see, is subtitled, the Rise and fall of Teddy Kennedy. In a lot of ways Teddy is only incidental to the story told here because it is really the story of his father, Joe Kennedy, and his rise to success. Joe’s success lay not only in the business of banking but during the prohibition years he made a fortune in bootlegging and naturally rubbed shoulders with a number of gangsters. When he became successful, Joe wanted something more; he wanted political power. It was then that he attached himself to Franklin D Roosevelt. He helped Roosevelt’s campaign in many ways and when Roosevelt became president, he, like all presidents, had to reward those who had helped him. Joe became ambassador to the UK and it was there that his fall from grace began.

The ambassador and his family quickly became celebrities in England. In fact, Teddy Kennedy made his first public appearance as a young boy, the ‘baby’ of the Kennedy family and the son of the Ambassador, when he was invited to open pets’ corner at London Zoo.

However, In Joe’s eyes the coming war with Nazi Germany spelled the end of all he had worked for. He could not see how the UK could resist the might of the Nazis and was not slow in saying so. Kennedy advised Roosevelt that the British were finished. However, when Winston Churchill became prime minister in 1940, Churchill opened up direct communications with Roosevelt himself making Ambassador Kennedy almost superfluous.   Later, the family returned to America with Joe not perhaps in disgrace but acutely out of step, and the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt flourished.

PC 8 The Kennedy Family at Hyannis Port, 1931. L-R: Robert Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy, Jean Kennedy (on lap of) Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (behind) Patricia Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (behind) Rosemary Kennedy. Dog in foreground is "Buddy". Photograph by Richard Sears in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

The Kennedy Family at Hyannis Port, 1931. L-R: Robert Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy, Jean Kennedy (on lap of) Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (behind) Patricia Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (behind) Rosemary Kennedy. Dog in foreground is “Buddy”. Photograph by Richard Sears in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Kennedy left the Roosevelt administration but he wanted political power for himself and made sure he would find it through his financial wealth, and through his sons.

Joe Kennedy junior was the son that Joe meant to make into America’s first catholic president. His brother, John Kennedy, known as Jack by the family, was a poorly lad afflicted by Addisons disease and constant back pain. In World War 2 Jack joined the navy but began an affair with a Dutch journalist, Inga Arvad. Inga was thought to be a Nazi spy so Joe immediately arranged for Jack to be posted well away from Inga to South Carolina. Bored with his desk job in South Carolina, Kennedy volunteered for the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons and later took charge of his own boat, PT 109. He was awarded the Purple Heart for his bravery in rescuing his men when his torpedo boat was sliced in two by a Japanese destroyer.

Joe Kennedy Jr was not at all happy when he heard about the award. Competitiveness was drilled into the Kennedy clan from an early age and Joe did not want his younger brother to top him. Perhaps that is why he volunteered for a dangerous mission. The mission involved a radio controlled plane, full of explosives that were to be remotely steered to a target in Germany. Joe’s job was to take the aircraft into the air then bale out when the radio control was activated. Sadly the aircraft’s explosives were detonated prematurely and Joe was killed.

Jack knew then that it was he who would have to fulfil his father’s desire for the presidency.

Joe used his influence, and his money, to get Jack first a seat in congress and then a seat in the senate. In 1960 it was time for him to fulfil his father’s dream and go for the presidency. Lyndon Johnson wanted the democratic ticket that year and he began by attacking the the Kennedy candidacy. He described him as ‘a little scrawny fellow with rickets’ but soon the influence of father Joe came to bear and Johnson ceased his attacks. Johnson knew that that Joe Kennedy would pull out all the stops for his son to win but he hoped that if the vote wasn’t decisive on the first ballot he would have a chance on the second one. As it happened, John F Kennedy won the nomination on the first ballot. According to McGinnis it was Joe who wanted Johnson as JFK’s running mate; perhaps that was payback for Johnson laying off his attacks on Kennedy’s health issues.

The election was close, very close indeed and Joe decided he needed help from a rather unsavoury corner; he turned to his former prohibition gangster contacts, notably Sam Giancana to help him secure victory for his son. That help would come at a price. Giancana wanted back the casinos in Cuba that used to make millions for the mob until Castro overthrew the Batista regime, closed down the casinos and threw the gangsters out of Cuba. Giancana wanted them back.

Kennedy won the election by a narrow margin but things went wrong almost straight away. CIA backed revolutionaries were training in secret Florida locations for an assault on Cuba but the plans were in disarray and the president rejected many of them, When the attack came it was a disaster. Kennedy accused the CIA of trying to force him into a full scale US assault on Cuba and he would have none of it. Giancana would not get his casinos back. Worse, the president had engaged his brother, Robert Kennedy as attorney general and he began an assault on organised crime in the USA. One of the mafia bosses was heard to mutter in Sicilian, “who will get the stone out of my shoe?” It was more of a threat than a question.

Joe Kennedy was struck down by a stroke at the age of 88 and rendered unable to speak. The chief fixer, paymaster and head of the Kennedys was unable to carry on talks with the mafia and the time had come to remove the stone from Giancana’s shoe.

Dealey Plaza

Dallas 1963

President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963 and his presumed assassin Lee Oswald murdered days later inside the Dallas Police headquarters. At the Kennedy home in Hyannis Port nobody wanted to tell Joe. He must have known something was wrong but he could only point numbly at the TV in his room that remained firmly switched off. Ted Kennedy, who was sent to tell his father the news, struggled to get the words out until his sister Eunice blurted out the truth.

Robert Kennedy was shot in 1968 as he prepared for a late campaign for the Democratic ticket. After winning the California primary he said a few words to his supporters and was shot moments later.

Ted Kennedy now had a surplus of Kennedy advisors and aides, all willing him on to go forward and run for the presidency. He declined even though a ‘draft Ted Kennedy’ movement had started to gain momentum. Instead people looked forward to 1972 when Teddy, the last remaining Kennedy brother would restore the lost kingdom, the lost Kennedy leadership but it was not to be.

In 1969 Kennedy attended a boating regatta at a small island called Chappaquiddick. Numerous parties were planned for the weekend; one was a gathering of the so-called ‘boiler room girls’ – a group of women who had been part of Robert Kennedy’s campaign team in 1968.

Kennedy apparently left the party late in the evening, supposedly to go to the island ferry with one of the girls, Mary Jo Kopechne but instead turned across a small bridge that led to the beach. Kennedy lost control of the car and the vehicle plunged upside down into a small lake. Kennedy somehow escaped leaving Mary to die in the car. Police divers found her body the next day, her head in a small air pocket in the foot well of the upside down car. Kennedy did not report the incident until nine hours later. What happened in those nine hours is open to question but the Police seemed to gloss over the numerous inconsistencies in Kennedy’s story and eventually he received a suspended sentence for leaving the scene of an accident.

On the cover of the book is a remark from the Daily Mail reviewer that he couldn’t put the book down. I was just the same and was engrossed from beginning to end. The writer seems convinced of his central thesis, that Joe Kennedy’s pact with the mafia was a poisoned chalice that became the downfall of his sons and his family. Maybe that is true, maybe not but McGinniss puts forward an interesting theory and a fabulous read.

Joe Kennedy died in 1969, his dream of securing the presidency for his sons lay in ruins, leaving nothing but heartache and sadness. Fate had delivered many cruel blows to him but lying mute and unable to communicate while his family suffered must have been the worst.

Ted Kennedy continued in the senate until his death in 2009 from brain cancer.

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Howard Hughes and the Watergate Tapes.

A week or so ago, August the 8th was the anniversary of the resignation of President Richard Nixon. He resigned the US presidency in 1974 after realising his battle to remain in office was finally lost. His battle for his tapes, which he believed were his personal property went on and on and was continued by his estate even after his death.

I have always understood that John F Kennedy was the first President to install a taping system in the white house though Wikipedia seems to think the practice began with Roosevelt. Many of the recordings made during Kennedy’s presidency have been released including those of cabinet meetings during the missile crisis of 1962.

Johnson carried on the tradition of taping and recording phone calls and numerous calls have been declassified and released by the authorities. Some with a special poignancy were even recorded on Air Force One on the 22nd November, 1963, the day Kennedy was shot and Johnson elevated to the presidency.

Anyway, despite his two predecessors, the President most famous for taping in the white house was Richard Nixon and it was the ‘Watergate tapes’ that were at the heart of the Watergate scandal and after reading many books on the subject I feel the Watergate scandal as it came to be known really had its roots in the turbulent year of 1968.

1968 was a landmark year for Nixon and for the USA itself. The public feeling for Vietnam had turned more and more sour as more GIs returned home in body bags. Demonstrations began; university campuses were alight with protests.

In the first primaries of the year incumbent president Johnson, who previously had a high approval rating with the public was surprised by a good showing from rival Senator Eugene McCarthy, running on a anti-war stance. His success urged Robert Kennedy to throw his hat into the ring and on the 3rd June, 1968 Johnson announced in a televised broadcast that he would not accept the nomination for president. Vietnam had overshadowed his presidency and all his other efforts, his so called ‘great society’ and his civil rights programme; all were overshadowed by the conflict in Vietnam.

Martin Luther King was shot dead in 1968 as was Senator Kennedy. Kennedy’s body was taken to Washington from California by rail and as millions waited by the tracks to watch his funeral train pass by, it must have seemed for many Americans like the end of the world.

Howard HughesFor one man though, sitting alone in a Nevada hotel suite, sealed off from the world by his Mormon minders, the death of Bobby Kennedy was an opportunity. The elderly Hughes, lying naked on a bed watching TV, his hair, long and unkempt and his finger and toenails uncut, was a far cry from the young film maker, aviator, and entrepreneur he had once been. Immediately he wrote a memo to his chief executive and public alter ego, Robert Maheu. He said basically that now Kennedy was lying dead or dying on the pantry floor of a California hotel this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to put on the payroll the entire Kennedy election team, in particular electoral strategist Larry O’Brien.  O’Brien had served under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and would later become chairman of the Democratic National Convention. Not a thought for the dying Kennedy, just the opportunity to get hold of a ready-made election team and put his own man in the white house. At the time Hughes had the idea of promoting Governor Laxalt of Nevada for the job. Fantastic as it may seem the genesis of what would become Watergate lay in Hughes actions on that night.

Hughes was worried about the nuclear testing in Nevada and he had sent Maheau on a mission to get Johnson to move the tests elsewhere. Johnson met with Maheau, listened, tried to get the promise of a donation towards his presidential library, but would not move the nuclear tests. Hughes felt he would need to speak with whoever won the election. Becoming increasingly more paranoid, and more and more worried about the nuclear testing, he tasked Maheau with offering a million dollar bribe to the man who would move the tests elsewhere:The man who would emerge victorious in the presidential election was Richard Nixon.

It was a pretty close run battle for the presidency in 1968 but Hubert Humphrey, the democratic candidate had little election funding although Hughes cannily hedged his bets. He made donations to both opposing candidates. Humphrey was elected as the democratic candidate in a shambolic convention marred by tear gas and protests and Eugene McCarthy, running on an anti-war ticket was ignored despite his earlier success in the primarys. Humphrey won the nomination even though he had not won or even contested any of the primarys. Richard Nixon however, won the eventual presidential election with his campaign pledges of ‘bring us together’ and ‘peace with honour’, which did not mean retreating from Vietnam as perhaps some people may have thought.

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Nixon though, despite his victory, was worried. The defeat by John F Kennedy in 1960 still rankled. Many thought that the Kennedy victory had been a given a helping hand by voting fraud, especially in the Chicago area controlled by Democrat Governor Daley. Nixon though, felt his defeat was due to leaks about loans to his campaign and to his brother Donald from Howard Hughes. Larry O’Brien, despite his retainer from Hughes was running the democratic campaign and Nixon felt that O’Brien must know about Nixon’s own Hughes connection. What information did he have? What was in his safe in the Democratic Campaign headquarters in the Watergate building in Washington?

The FBI and CIA had already spurned Nixon’s requests for covert surveillance and they were dragging their feet over the leaks of highly classified information from government offices. The answer, it seemed to Nixon, was the  creation of a white house covert intelligence unit that became known as the ‘Plumbers’ made up of of ex CIA and FBI members. Their job was to stop the leaks, and get Nixon the information he wanted.

Nixon wanted to know what was in Larry O’Brien’s safe in the Watergate building, what information did O’Brien have about a Nixon-Hughes connection? The plumbers would have to find out. On May 11th, 1972 the plumbers secretly entered the Democratic National Convention offices and left behind a number of bugs and listening devices. Problems arose soon afterwards when it was found the wiretapping devices were malfunctioning. There was no choice but to enter the building again. The five man team did so on the night of June 16th/17th 1972. Sometime after midnight on the 17th a security guard noticed that various doors into the building had been taped, preventing them from locking. He called the Police and the five men were arrested.

  1. James W. McCord – a security co-ordinator for the Republican National Committee and the Committee for the Re-election of the President. McCord was also a former FBI and CIA agent.
  2. Virgilio R. Gonzales – a locksmith from Miami, Florida. Gonzalez was a refugee from Cuba, following Castro’s takeover.
  3. Frank A. Sturgis – another associate of Barker from Miami, he also had CIA connections and involvement in anti-Castro activities.
  4. Eugenio R. Martinez – worked for Barker’s Miami real estate firm. He had CIA connections and was an anti-Castro Cuban exile.
  5. Bernard L. Barker – a realtor from Miami, Florida. Former Central Intelligence Agency operative. Barker was said to have been involved in the Bay of Pigs incident in 1962.

The five men were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. The burglary was reported in the media and it seemed at first that the incident was an unremarkable ‘third class burglary’ just as the white house press secretary Ron Zeigler described it. Zeigler announced that white house aide John Dean had made a full investigation into the matter when in fact Dean had done no such thing. Two others, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy who were involved in planning and arranging the break in, were also later arrested. They were the link from the burglars to the white house.

Gradually, various revelations appeared in the press, particularly those by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and this escalation of the issue, especially when reports of other abuses of power by the Nixon White House were revealed, forced the announcement of a Senate Investigation.

On February 7th 1973 the Senate voted to establish a select committee to investigate Watergate and during the hearings a surprising revelation emerged. On the 16th July 1973, testimony revealed that President Nixon had a recording system in the White House. Archibald Cox, the special counsel for investigating Watergate immediately issued a subpoena for the tapes. Nixon refused to hand them over citing executive privilege.

As you know, Nixon had to eventually hand over the tapes including one that had a mysterious eighteen minute gap. An impeachment process began and when Nixon was advised that the recommendation was likely to pass through the senate, he resigned. On August 8th, 1974, Nixon broadcast his resignation speech from the White House and stepped down at noon on the next day in favour of Gerald Ford.

One of the most interesting conversations on the Watergate tapes was, I have always thought, a conversation that took place on March 21st, 1973. John Dean felt that Watergate was fast becoming ‘a cancer within-close to the presidency, that’s growing. It’s growing daily’

John Dean: Where are the soft spots on this? Well, first of all, there’s the problem of the continued blackmail—

President Nixon: Right.

Dean: –which will not only go on now, it’ll go on when these people are in prison, and it will compound the obstruction-of-justice situation. It’ll cost money. It’s dangerous. Nobody, nothing–people around here are not pros at this sort of thing. This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do: washing money, getting clean money, and things like that. We just don’t know about those things, because we’re not used to, you know, we’re not criminals. We’re not used to dealing in that business. It’s a–

President Nixon: That’s right.

Dean: It’s a tough thing to know how to do.

President Nixon: Maybe we can’t even do that.

Dean: That’s right. It’s a real problem as to whether we could even do it. Plus, there’s a real problem in raising money. [John] Mitchell has been working on raising some money, feeling he’s got, you know, he’s got—he’s one of the ones with the most to lose. But there’s no denying the fact that the White House and [John] Ehrlichman, [Bob] Haldeman, and Dean are involved in some of the early money decisions.

President Nixon: How much money do you need?

Dean: I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years.

Short pause.

President Nixon: We could get that.

Dean: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: If you—on the money, if you need the money, I mean, you could get the money fairly easily.

Dean: Well, I think that we’re–

President Nixon: What I meant is, you could get a million dollars. And you could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten.

Dean: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: I mean, it’s not easy, but it could be done.

Could it really have been that the million dollars that Nixon was talking about was the same million dollars Hughes was offering to get the nuclear testing moved elsewhere? A paranoid old billionaire living in squalor, obsessed by germs who everything handed to him had to be wrapped in tissue paper. Could it be that Howard Hughes’ obsessions had eventually brought down the Nixon white house?

Further reading.

The Ends of Power. H.R. Haldeman

All The President’s Men. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

Blind Ambition. John W. Dean

Will. G. Gordon Liddy

Citizen Hughes. Michael Drosnin

Steve Higgins is the author of Floating In Space available from Amazon.


Seven Questions about the Bobby Kennedy Assassination

Robert F Kennedy died from gunshot wounds on this day in 1968.

I’ve seen and heard a lot of shocking events on television over the years. I remember hearing about the death of Princess Diana one Sunday morning while I waited for the kettle to boil for a mornin…

Source: Seven Questions about the Bobby Kennedy Assassination

3 Books you should read about the JFK Assassination

quotescover-JPG-43The 22nd November is the anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy; one of the most shocking events of the twentieth century. It’s something I’ve been interested in ever since I was a boy and I’ve collected many books about the subject.

I’m still fascinated by the mystery: Did Lee Oswald shoot the President? Did he act alone? Why did Jack Ruby shoot Oswald? Was the CIA involved? Very few of those questions will ever be answered but it’s clear that the findings of the Warren Commission, the investigative body set up by President Lyndon Johnson are not definitive. Indeed the senate investigation in the 1970’s concluded that the President was assassinated ‘probably’ by a conspiracy. Even so, no attempts to investigate further or take action have been made. If you want to find out more, what should you read? Well, there are numerous books on the subject you might try but here below are three key and classic books you need to read:

Mark_Lane_Rush_to_Judgment_coverRush To Judgement by Mark Lane
This was one of the first books to take a critical look at the Warren Commission report and say, ‘hang on, some things don’t add up here!’ Lane deals with a lot of the minutiae of the assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald’s activities.

One interesting element to me was the murder weapon; the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle bought through mail order and sent to a post office box that Oswald rented under a false name. The gun was oily. The scope on the gun was not aligned properly, in fact the FBI found that it could not be aligned at all and had to add metal shims in order to align the scope, meaning that it was test fired by the FBI in a condition that was not available to Oswald!

The first officer to find the rifle even signed an affidavit that the rifle was a Mauser and not a Mannlicher-Carcano! Quite a mistake for an American police officer who would surely be familiar with firearms.

sixsecondsSix seconds in Dallas by Josiah Thompson
Thompson argued in favour of a conspiracy by analysing the Zapruder film of the assassination. In the film shot by local businessman Abraham Zapruder the last two shots come close together, meaning that one of them could not have come from Oswald’s rifle because it took 1.7 seconds to eject the used cartridge and make ready to fire again. This clearly occurred to the people in the Warren Commission as one of its members (Arlen Specter, a lawyer not a forensic expert) put forward the so called ‘single bullet theory’ which argued that a single bullet hit President Kennedy in the back, exited his throat and then struck Governor Connelly who was sitting ahead of Kennedy in the Presidential limousine.

This bullet was found on a stretcher in almost pristine condition which many commentators have asserted means it could not have passed through two bodies and inflicted so much damage.

In 1979 the Select Committee on Assassinations heard evidence of tests that showed the firing could have taken place in only 1.66 seconds per shot. Oswald’s original rifle however, was in too poor a condition to be used for the tests and another was substituted. Even so, none of the test shooters were able to replicate Oswald’s marksmanship despite Oswald being at best only a reasonable shot. An interesting, readable and thoughtful book but rather rare.

Best Evidence by David Lifton.

best evidence

best evidence

This is an excellent book in many ways. It’s not just about the assassination itself, the author spends a lot of time describing his personal fascination in the Kennedy case and how his interest has evolved and developed. He has followed the growth of theories and new revelations over the years and made efforts to meet and interview many of the witnesses involved.

Lifton puts forward an argument that is a little unbelievable, certainly to me, that Kennedy’s body was spirited away and the injuries changed to fit in with the theory that Oswald shot Kennedy from the rear. The doctors at Parkland Hospital all clearly state that Kennedy had a massive exit wound in the back of his head indicating a shot from the front but the autopsy report concluded Kennedy was shot from the rear.

I can understand where Lifton was coming from, the autopsy result and recollections of medical staff at Parkland clearly don’t match, but altering the President’s body? I don’t think so. The President’s body would have had to have been pried from the Secret Service who were with it from Dealey Plaza, to Parkland, and Air Force One to Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Some of those whom Lifton interviewed claimed a helicopter landed and the President’s body arrived, implying it came by helicopter when in fact it came by motorcade in an ambulance with the First Lady aboard. One interviewee stated that at Parkland Hospital the body was wrapped in sheets and placed in a coffin. Another spoke of taking the President’s body out of a body bag at Bethesda so clearly these accounts do not match up.

This book also did a lot to help me reconcile the workings of the Warren Commission. It is often dismissed by many people as a cover up but in fact the Warren Commission reacted to the evidence presented to it by the FBI as any other court or legal body would do: It processed the assassination according to the evidence.

Did anyone see someone shooting from the grassy knoll? No. Did anyone see a shooter in the Texas schoolbook depository? Yes. Was a rifle found in the sniper’s nest at the Texas School Book Depository? Yes. Was it delivered to a PO box belonging to Lee Oswald? Yes.

As you can imagine, the Warren Commission found Lee Oswald guilty of the assassination. What else could they do? However, many people not heard or dismissed by the commission heard gunfire and shots from the grassy knoll.

One Police Officer dropped his motorcycle and ran up there only to encounter a scruffy man looking like an auto mechanic. The man had Secret Service credentials and the officer let him go. There were no Secret Service there that day. They were all in the motorcade or waiting at the Trade Mart where the President’s next stop should have been, so who was the man? What was he doing there on the grassy knoll?

As you read more and more about the assassination, more stories like that come to light and the accumulated weight of these revelations is what fuels the enduring mystery. I do love a mystery and my interest in the JFK assassination, like Lifton’s has endured for a long time.

I’m not sure just how to describe to you just how fascinated I am in this story but if you’ve seen that part in the Woody Allen film Annie Hall, where Woody is trying to seduce someone but finds himself consumed by thoughts about the assassination then you’ve got the idea.

To find out more about the assassination try the JFK Lancer website at

On a less serious note, here’s the Woody Allen clip:


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A Few Unconventional Thoughts about Time

quotescover-jpg-88bTime, there’s a thing. I have a theory about time and it’s this, it’s that time flows differently in different places. OK; sounds a bit mad doesn’t it? Let me explain further. Take somewhere like France. Dotted about France are innumerable war grave cemeteries. The conflicts of the first and second world wars left their mark on the landscape in various ways and even today farmers in the Somme and other places continue to dig up artillery shells and other reminders of the past.

Batterie Todt, Pas De Calais

Batterie Todt, Pas De Calais

On many occasions when trundling through rural France I’ve come across many bunkers, fortresses and other sites. In northern France Liz and I stopped at a war grave cemetery that was picture perfect in its own way. The lawns were incredibly neat, and the hedgerows immaculately trimmed. Sadness pervaded the site like a scent coming over from the adjacent fields. Throughout there is a feeling of peace, of slowness and a feeling that time has stopped here or perhaps just slowed. That’s not strange when you think that time must have speeded up during the action of the first and second world wars, so it seems only fair that nature must compensate, that time must slow later to make up for the fast and frantic earlier time.

You can imagine the pace of things even a hundred years ago: The early morning bombardment, the whistles blowing as officers called their troops to go over the top. The advance parties who made ahead to cut the barbed wire, the troops walking apprehensively forward until they walked into the deadly machine gun fire that cut most of them down. Many found their final resting places in these cemeteries, places that are now quiet and peaceful with a silent beauty, timeless and moving with the beat of nature as a backdrop, the humming of the insects, distant cows mooing, and the birds flying past.

Many soldiers’ bodies slipped deeper into the mud of places like the Somme and remain there still. Others have no resting places, their bodies blown to pieces by artillery shells, their names marked on marble walls forever missing in action.

War memorial, France, 1940

War memorial, France, 1940

At one place, travelling from St Quentin to Soissons we stopped by the road to find a huge sword standing in the rock. Like a giant Excalibur, it stood there waiting to be pulled by some giant hand, bearing silent witness to a long ago battle from the Second World War.

We once visited Compiegne, the place where the armistice was signed at the end of the First World War. The famous railway coach there is not the authentic one. No, that one was where Hitler forced the French to surrender in the early days of World War 2. The coach was then taken away to Berlin where the Nazis destroyed it in the closing stages of the war to stop its return to France. The coach that stands here now in Compiegne is a similar one and it’s easy to imagine the scenes all those years ago, the French accepting the German surrender in 1918, then years later Hitler and his gang pressing their terms on the French.

Compiegne, France

I’ve never been to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland but whenever I look at one of those TV documentary programmes where TV cameras return to the site, it doesn’t look like a place of mass destruction. It looks calm, serene and another silent witness to the death and destruction of the past. Time ran faster here when the Nazi death machine was in full swing. Now time flows peacefully past over those who come to learn about what has gone on before. This must indeed be a sombre place to visit but Auschwitz is not only a memorial to those who had their lives snuffed out in such a terrible fashion but a reminder to all of the dangers of prejudice and hatred. Time hangs heavy over this place but the evil that built and maintained this death camp has long gone.

All the places mentioned here have had their moments in the spotlight of world history. They all lived through times of accelerated pace when time flowed swiftly. Perhaps it’s their time now for a quieter pace while time flows slowly . .

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Seven Questions about the Bobby Kennedy Assassination

I’ve seen and heard a lot of shocking events on television over the years. I remember hearing about the death of Princess Diana one Sunday morning while I waited for the kettle to boil for a morning cup of tea. I was watching TV when 9/11 happened and watched with horror as the second tower was hit by an aircraft. The very first tragedy I learned about from the television though was the shooting of Bobby Kennedy. I was only eleven years old then in 1968 but I knew exactly who Bobby Kennedy was and that his brother, the President, had been assassinated five years before.

Bobby Kennedy was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on the 5th of June, 1968. He was celebrating his victory in the California primary the previous day. He made a speech to his campaign supporters then turned away from the rostrum. He was due to meet the press in another part of the hotel and was led away through the pantry area at the back of the hotel. As he passed through the corridors numerous people approached to shake hands with the senator and pass on their best wishes. One man stepped forward though with a gun in his hand. His name was Sirhan Sirhan. He was ahead of Bobby and he pushed forward and began firing his Iver-Johnson eight shot revolver. He was quickly grabbed and pushed down onto a nearby table. The gun stayed firmly in his grasp and he continued to fire as more people assisted in trying to subdue him. Only when all eight shots were fired was the revolver finally wrestled from his grasp. Bobby Kennedy had been injured in the head and a busboy, Juan Romero, dropped to his knees to help. He pushed rosary beads into Bobby’s hands and the injured Senator was heard to ask ’is everyone safe?’

Robert Kennedy picture courtesy wikipedia

Robert Kennedy picture courtesy wikipedia

Bobby Kennedy died the next day. It’s fairly probable that had he lived he would have succeeded Lyndon Johnson as the next President of the United States. He was a man clearly concerned about the war in Vietnam, not only the war itself but the effect it was having within the United States so one of his priorities would surely have been ending the war. J Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI had been given a special dispensation by Johnson to stay at the head of the bureau despite having reached the mandatory retirement age. Would Kennedy have retired Hoover and put his own man in charge? Would he have reopened investigations into the death of his brother John, the assassinated President? Either way, these are only speculations. Bobby died the next day.

1. The autopsy showed that Bobby was hit in the back of the head at point-blank range. The fatal shot was fired in an upward direction. How could this be if Sirhan Sirhan was ahead of Kennedy and not close enough to inflict a point blank wound?

2. Scott Enyart, an amateur photographer was in the pantry and photographed the shooting. His film and photographs could answer many questions but they were confiscated by the LAPD. Later he sued the Police department for the return of his pictures but the Police claimed they had been routinely destroyed. What happened to them? Why was photographic evidence relating to the death of a major figure in the US destroyed?

3. Sirhan Sirhan had a number of notebooks. They were filled with page after page of notations like ’RFK must die.’Robert Kennedy must be assassinated.Why did he write these things? Were they part of hypnotic techniques that compelled Sirhan to shoot Bobby Kennedy?

4. Who was the girl in the polka dot dress seen leaving the hotel with a companion after the shooting and boasting that they had killed Kennedy?

5. Why was witness Sandra Sorrano forced to change her story about the polka dot dress girl during an aggressive interview with the FBI?

6. Sirhan Sirhan fired an Iver-Johnson eight shot revolver at Kennedy and discharged all eight bullets. In 1988 examination of an audio recording made of the assassination by reporter Stanislaw Pruszynski revealed thirteen gunshots rather the eight fired by Sirhan. Who fired the other five shots?

7. On August 21, 1968, less than two months after the assassination, 2400 photographs from the original investigation were burned, in the medical-waste incinerator at LA County General Hospital. Other records were also destroyed. Why?

When I heard about the shooting of Bobby Kennedy in 1968 I went out into the back yard of our home in the suburbs of Manchester and said a prayer for him. When he died the next day I was stunned, feeling a personal loss despite being an eleven year old English boy living a thousand miles away from the United States. In the USA itself, thousands of mourners lined the path of Kennedy’s funeral train as it wound its way towards Washington where Bobby was buried beside his slain brother, the President, in Arlington National Cemetary.

Recently Robert Kennedy Jr met with Sirhan Sirhan in a California State Prison and declared he now supports calls for a reinvestigation of the murder. Read more about this in an interesting article in the Washington Post by clicking here.

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