New Moment in History

As many of you know, space history was once again re-made when Austrian Felix Baumgartner jumped from the stratosphere on Sunday 14 October in Mexico, breaking two world records – the highest ever skydive at 128,000 feet/39,000m and becoming the first human to break the sound barrier.

He was chaperoned along the way by 84 year-old Joe Kittinger, who 52 years ago made the same jump at the height of 3,100m, on 16 August 1960, creating records of his own.

During the jump, the pressure in Kittinger’s right glove failed. Though his hand eventually swelled to double its size, he decided not to tell his team and to go ahead with the mission, in case they wanted him to abort. So instead, he jumped.

See here for more on Kittinger’s jumps and the video of his third fall:

Joe Kittinger’s original series of jumps are the reason I became interested in the Red Bull Stratos jump. In my previous job working for the Viasat History channel, we planned to show a programme about his jumps in 1959 and 1960 that would coincide with Baumgartner’s jump which was originally due to take place a couple of years ago, had it not been for legal action taken against the project that temporarily put it on hold.

Two years later, and the jump was back on.

The Red Bull Stratos team did have to abort the first mission, due to high winds on Tuesday 9 October. With only one back up balloon left, the jump had to be made on the following Sunday… and the balloon launched perfectly.

But for a moment, it seemed as though this jump would have to be aborted as well, when Baumgartner flagged a serious problem: his faceplate visor failed to heat up on the practise run, which would have meant a steamed visor in the cold temperature. But they decided to go ahead anyway.

Watching it live, I had that feeling that all those people had back at the time of the first moon landing on 20 July 1969. It sent a shiver down my neck when Baumgartner pulled the hatch away and looked out to a view of the earth’s curvature, and Joe Kittinger chuckled and said something like,

“There’s the whole world right in front of you.”



And then he said a few words,

“Sometimes you have to be really high to see how small you really are. I’m going home now.”



I was practically crying watching this, just watching that tiny figure tumbling in the sky.

Troubles occurred when he got caught up temporarily in a death spin – a deadly spin that every skydiver aims to avoid, as the spinning causes blood to run to the diver’s head or completely away from it, eventually making them pass out, which happened to Kittinger during one of his jumps. You can see the moments of Baumgartner’s death spin in this crazy video from his perspective:

But he managed to get out of it pretty swiftly, and landed – running on his feet like a pro making just a normal routine landing – before falling to his knees with immense happiness.

Vampires and Witches: A Short History

When I was young, about five or six, I was quite superstitious and paranoid. I was so superstitious, in fact, that when I washed my face before going to bed, and I pulled the plug out of the sink, I ran all the way to my bedroom, for fear that if I didn’t get there before the plughole gurgled, something bad would happen. Surprised I had any toes left after all the corridor corners I had to negotiate on the way.

And I was very paranoid. I had so many nightmares about Martians invading after I would listen to Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds, or watch the 1950’s film. It didn’t matter how scared I got each time, I would still put myself through the ordeal of listening to the album or watching the film time and time again. Anyway, I was so paranoid, that at one point in my young life I thought that everyone was spying on me – my family were all in on it. All conspiring against me, wearing masks. I think Road Dahl’s The Witches had something to do with that – that, and being the youngest child in a large family who often didn’t understand the things that everyone else understood. I finally plucked up the courage after what seemed like months back then but was probably just a couple of weeks, and I asked my sister.

I said:

“Are you all witches wearing masks and spying on me?”

She started laughing, and I was so relieved.

Two nights ago, I went to see Derren Brown’s show Svengali which was a mayzing. It baffled me so much that I woke up with what I call a “cryptic crossword headache”. In other words, it made me think too hard. And the show itself covered the theme of possession. The word “svengali” refers to someone who can control another with evil intent. That’s about all I can say, though you can probably guess he did his usual freaky stuff.

Today, we see the Middle Ages as being renowned for the age of superstition. Regarding witches, you could pretty much accuse anyone (women mainly) of being a witch or dancing with the devil if they had a wart on their face or a birthmark or seemed possessed. The idea of witches and possession by demons came about through the superstitious elements of religion – Christianity in Britain – with its superstitious roots evident in the Bible and its references to possessed beings – see here for many occasions when Jesus cast out demons. Paganism became synonymous with devil worship in the eye of the church at some point. Of course, some people did practise devil worship and witchcraft and still do. But the medieval times are famous for their women-ducking, stake-burning, back-stabbing masses of witch hunters, such as those led by Vincent Price as epitomised in the film Witchfinder General…okay so it wasn’t actually Vincent Price, but Matthew Hopkins played by Vincent Price.

Sometimes, I wish Vincent Price could read me to sleep with a bedtime story every night.

Right now, I have the DVD menu on the TV screen for The Woman in Black with the freaky music playing in the background over and over, really getting me into this post.

Now, let’s get back to Matthew Hopkins.

He was an immoral lawyer in the 17th century, nicknamed “The Witch-Finder General”, and in just 14 months, around 1645/1646, he was responsible for the deaths of 230 so-called witches. He used to torture people – at that time illegal in Britain – to rouse confessions from his victims, along with his little sidekick John Stearne, a sadistic chap who enjoyed a good old torturous prick and poke, and later a couple of other folk who joined the witch hunting team. Confessions amounted to admitting you were a witch and that you kept and “suckled” imps usually in the forms of animals. And maybe you’d throw in a couple of names of other witches while you were at it. Such as Elizabeth Clarke, Hopkins’ first victim, whose mother was found guilty of witchcraft before her, and who eventually admitted to being a  witch with imps and familiars in the form of her pets. She had been kept without food and sleep for three days though, and ridiculed with strip searches. As seen below:


Women bore the brunt of these searches, having always been seen as either ugly, old hags or seductive, evil temptresses of men as a result of religious, spiritual and, let’s face it, sexist beliefs throughout the Middle Ages. And still today.

Kristen Stewart. She’s one, isn’t she? Cheating on R Patts. Seducing older men. Never the other way round, I’m sure.

Maybe not – never mind, just needed a way to move onto vampires.

Vampires became strongly apparent again in Medieval times. They were everywhere – couldn’t get rid of them. They used to nick milk and orange juice off doorsteps after a late night out, the pests.

Vampires came about through the idea of the “undead” during this superstitious age. The term “vampire” developed around the beginning of the 18th century, but the idea of a vampire has been around for many many centuries, and there is evidence found in other parts of the world to suggest it is prehistoric. The vampire came to the Western world from Eastern Europe, and the term “vampire” has derived from a number of European languages.

The evidence for vampires? Inexplicable deaths caused townsfolk to exhume the bodies of those they believed may not have passed onto the spirit world – usually those who were troublemakers in their living lives.

Signs of a vampire? A bloated body having just fed on a victim, with trails of blood from the mouth or nose.

Way of dealing with a vampire? A stake through the heart in some countries, decapitation in others. Also, a brick in the mouth.

Why a brick in the mouth? I hear you say. Because if they exhumed bodies, they often found a hole in the shroud that covered the corpse’s head in the mouth area, causing the teeth to be bared. They weren’t aware that it was the bacteria in the mouth that created the hole, but rather strangely thought it was something vampires fed on to build their strength up, along with feasting on the blood of fellow corpses in the graveyard before moving onto living human blood. Nor did they understand epidemics, and that it was probably illnesses, not vampires, that struck down many people at a time. So, they drove stakes through their hearts, often pinning them inside their coffins, put rocks in their mouths to jar their jaws, or buried troublemakers in the living world upside down, as they were the ones most likely to become vampires, so that when they tried to dig themselves out of their coffins, they actually dug straight to hell.

Of course, today we understand the processes of decomposition much more than in the good ol’ Middle Ages. Bodies become bloated, not through “feeding”, but through the build up of gases inside, which would inevitably create enough pressure to push blood out of the mouth or nose. Those from the Middle Ages were also unaware of the factors contributing towards decomposition such as cool air temperatures which allowed bodies to rot at a much slower rate, thereby giving the appearance that the body was not really decomposing at all.

The thing I find strange about the belief in vampires, is not all the strange practices and paraphernalia they used to rid themselves of these bloodsucking creatures, but the global spread of this belief. Not only were vampires thought to have existed by people living across Europe, but also in other continents all around the world. Though not necessarily known by the term “vampire”, the folklore of other cultures show belief in these evil beings: ramanga in Madagascar – the outlaw who feasts on the blood and toenail clippings of nobles; and my particular favourite, the manananggal of the Phillippines, who flies at night to prey on pregnant women as they sleep, by eating their foetuses using their long tongues, and also feeding on the entrails and phlegm of sick people. Makes me hungry actually – I imagine the sensation of sucking on phlegm to be like sucking out the last bit of ice cream from the bottom of a Cornetto.

My point is, vampires were a widely spread belief for centuries, even millennia. How did the belief disappear (disregarding those who still belief in vampires and werewolves, of course – I’m referring to the general public)? Well, this wasn’t easy to find out on the net, particularly because so many people’s responses to this question is that they do still believe in some form or another of vampires (I don’t – really there is no more space in my paranoid mind to start getting scared of vampires. I already have masked witches in my family to contend with). But I guess the obvious reason must be the advances in medical science, and the freedom to question the church’s teachings, without being condemned as a blasphemer.

And now to finish with one of my favourite witchy moments:


Olympics Through the Ages

Yesterday, I read in an article in The Guardian that the  winner of the men’s 5000m race in the 2008 Beijing Olympics would have beaten the winner of the men’s 1500m race in 1908. They took this fact from a report created by researchers in the House of Commons, which also said that the winner of the women’s marathon in 2008 would have beaten the winner of the men’s race in 1908 by half an hour.

Interesting stuff.

It seems we are becoming superhuman – or godlike, if you will, like the Ancient Greeks. We (and I use the word “we” as opposed to “they” when I reference athletes as it makes me feel good about myself) just keep getting faster and stronger and breaking each other’s world records. We can’t help but push ourselves. So how did we get like this, and why weren’t we like it in the past?

A number of reasons:-

– money. People didn’t have the money for training regimes – especially women for obvious reasons in the past (on a side note, women have only been allowed to compete in all categories at the Olympics for the first time this year – the final sport being boxing. Strangely, there are still some sports that don’t allow men, such as synchronised swimming. Also, in the old days, people not deemed to be of a civilised origin had to compete in separate events i.e. in 1904, those from colonies such as Africa, out of fear of later revolts against the dominant world leaders and empires, were only allowed to compete in so-called “athletic events for savages”. Fast forward to the black power salute of the 1968 Olympics, and even to today with such programmes as Survival of the Fastest and race and genetics still play a very prominent role in modern Olympics).

– two world wars got in the way. Ducking bombs whilst out jogging is obviously too distracting.

– regarding jogging – although the term jogging has been referenced since Shakespeare’s day, with a slightly different meaning of “slight, quick movements”, it never really took off until the 1960s/1970s and in those days was called roadwork, something mainly used by athletes. My point is that the idea of keeping fit – jogging regularly being a main part of modern day fitness regimes – wasn’t really a habit of the general public until the second half of the 20th century. Yes, people did exercise, but it generally consisted of flapping your arms and legs around.

(Club swinging – a discontinued Olympic event)

Fitness regimes of athletes were probably not as hardcore as today’s athletes either, and they didn’t push themselves like others today. The idea was to ease your body into fitness, not pummel it into it. For example, you can chart the progression of the star jump – originally a simple stretch waving the arms up and down in the Victorian times, through to the Edwardians where the movement had progressed to doing the same action but holding weights as well, and finally towards the twenties and onwards where jumping becamed involved – forming the star jump. So in the old days, people did not have as deep an understanding of the human body as we do today. Nor did early modern Olympians have the same kind of diets. Or drugs. Or rather sport enhancing drugs we use today – past generations were also known to have taken drugs as I will describe later.

In terms of overt fitness or muscle tone, muscle-building is one thing that has been around since the late 1800s, promoted by the likes of Prussian Eugen Sandow with his Grecian Ideal, but his look was probably considered that of the other, and was not the norm. Yet, the Victorians and Edwardians did generally get into more outdoor sports and leisure activities, like cricket. This led to such games in the 1908 Olympics as the popular sport of pedestrianism.

This was basically long distance walking brought about by the Victorian love of the great outdoors. But we aren’t talking a simple 3-hour race. Though they loved the great outdoors, this sport was gruelling and repetitive, as outlined in this article stating how one six-day pedestrianism race took place in one sports ring. Six days! That meant walking round and round and round and round… In fact, some people found the exercise so physically challenging, they often cut their thighs to relieve muscle tension. It’s easy to see why even Victorian athletes took drugs for pain relief in those days. As pharmacies were more relaxed during Victorian times, and were generally still experimenting themselves with many types of drugs, athletes would chew coca leaves, and take cocaine, strychnine and alcohol. However, this was all banned by the 1908 Olympics.

But still, the muscles we see in the Olympics today were a little less recognisable in the old days – a bit more deflated and, well, flabby. Roll back the clock to the Ancient Games, and there is an obvious difference.

1896 saw the first modern Olympic Games in Athens. The Ancient Olympics didn’t actually take place in Athens, but in Olympia, beginning in 776 BC and continuing every four years (known as an olympiad) around the time of the summer solstice. Any free man from any country and state could compete as long as he spoke Greek, but women couldn’t attend. There were a few differences between the Ancient Olympics and the modern Games of around the turn of the 20th century. My first point regards muscles. Look at these Ancient Classical Greek artefacts:

The Ancient Greeks tried to model themselves on the Olympic Gods in body and in mind – hence their gymnasiums and games such as the Olympics, and also through studying all different subjects. The Olympics was a religious event dedicated to the gods – mainly Zeus and Hera. Of course, we can’t expect that every Greek looked like the two bronze Riace Warriors above (not least because elements of these figures just don’t make sense: muscles are over-defined, and they are actually missing their coccyx bones. Though they seem highly realistic, they are still works of art and emphasize the supposed perfection of the Ancient Greek body), but perhaps many of the athletes did.

I always remember my Classics teacher at school telling us that when sculptures like this were first discovered, the people laughed at the muscle definition, simply because they didn’t realise these muscles existed.

Ancient Greeks did also compete in the nude, if not to prove they were men and legible to enter the Games, but also to show off their fine physiques. In the old days, there were fewer events, but these included things like the 192m sprint race, which involved contestants running down a straight, or a stade as it was known – the length of the stadium, round a wooden stake, and back down the straight they came down to the starting line.

On this vase, showing such sprinters, there is obvious muscle definition, so we can only determine from all of these artefacts – regardless of artistic licensing – that they must have been very fit in the Ancient Games.

Another event was the pankration – a fighting sport with an anything goes kind of attitude, except it didn’t allow biting or eye-gouging. These men were obviously bulkier.

And of course chariot racing – dangerous and bloody. Prizes for the various Panhellenic Games, which the Olympic Games were a part of, involved a gift of whatever was the symbol for that event (for the Olympics, it was an olive wreath, known as kotinos), and a lot of public recognition – and much partying!

One event I always found intriguing was the ancient technique for the long jump, part of the pentathlon.

They did it from a standing position (even in the original modern day Olympics they did the long jump from a standing position) and held weights, swinging them backwards and forwards before taking a leap. Apparently the weights pulled them further forward and steadied their landing.

Here are some modern games that are no longer practised:


Yes, the tug-of-war. A very British game, which would explain who came first in all three places in 1908: Gold went to the City of London Police, Silver to the Liverpool Police, and Bronze to the Metropolitan Police “K” Division. I wonder if this event would ever have made it to the Games if Rome had in fact held them as intended, and not Britain who stepped in when Mt Vesuvius erupted on April 7, 1906. As of this year, Britain will be the only country to have held a record of three Olympic Games – 1908, 1948 and 2012. At the 1948 Olympics, Germany and Japan were strictly prohibited from entering.

I did a tug-of-war once with loads of other local children, and I remember being pulled forward along with the rest of my side so fast that I tumbled over onto a topless man with a massive beer belly who was lying out on the floor. I lost my balance and sat on his beer belly twice. Yes, tug-of-wars remind me of sunny, summer days – not that we’ll apparently see much of that at this year’s Olympics, which will be another record for Britain: it is due to be the wettest Olympic Games in history (most events will be wet t-shirt competitions – wahey!).


In this picture, we see the British women’s archery team who won all lead position. This may have been due to the fact that Britain was the only nation to have a women’s team…

The Plunge/Swimming Obstacle Race/Underwater Swimming

The Olympics used to feature a whole host of swimming events which you can see being relived here by Sports Relief on the BBC. My favourite is the obstacle race which involved such things as swimming under a boat and climbing up and down a pole.

Delivery Van Driving

In the 1900 Olympics in Paris, this was an unofficial event as part of the World Fair. In fact, there were all forms of motor racing at this event, including a taxi race, 7 seater car race, 2 seater car race… the list goes on.

And a few more  that have gone out of fashion over the years:

Live pigeon shooting

Rope climbing

Long distance horse jumping

Poodle clipping

Solo synchronised swimming

Club swinging (as pictured above)

Hot air balloon racing

It seems the older modern day Games had a much more lighthearted feel. I for one am going to propose a slippery pole competition for this year’s Games – if it’s not too late.



“And Odysseus Devised a Horse…to Ruin the Trojans’ Online Game of Angry Birds”

Apologies for the lack of posts lately. I’ve had a lot of viruses on my computer as of late ( for your information, never install the free software Converter Lite – it is malware). Most of us know what viruses are in terms of animal diseases. When I think of a virus I remember drawing strange diagrams at school. Lock and key diagrams, right? Maybe I’m getting it all confused with other molecules and diagrams. Anyway, I had to reinstall my computer because of this virus. Shame we can’t reinstall ourselves when we get ill.

A computer virus is “a software program capable of reproducing itself and usually capable of causing great harm to files or other programs”.

The oldest computer viruses weren’t considered viruses at the time, and were simply known as self-replicating computer programs. The Creeper virus, written by Bob Thomas, is the oldest known purpose-built virus which, during the early 1970s, sprouted through the ARPANET (an early version of the internet – the world’s first operational packet-switching network) on the TENEX operating system.

Honestly, I completely understand the technical stuff I just wrote, and this diagram, but I just can’t be bothered to explain it to you technophobes, so I won’t. But I really do understand it.

The Creeper was self-replicating, like a virus you and I can catch, and it caused the following message to appear:

I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!

The Reaper program was designed to get rid of the Creeper.

After that, other viruses came along, such as the Elk Cloner in 1981 which was written by Rich Skrenta, and was the first virus to appear “in the wild” or outside of the lab it was created in. It attached itself to the Apple DOS 3.3 operating system (yes, that’s an Apple virus not Microsoft, believe it or not).

And of course, most of us have experienced the Trojan horse programs, so-called because they sneak into your computer like the soldiers of Ancient Greece who infiltrated the enchanted walls of Troy by hiding inside a large, wooden horse that was wheeled inside the city, and who went on to win the Trojan war (you can read about it in Virgil’s Aeneid or Homer’s Odyssey. Translate them yourself from Ancient Greek or Latin, if you like. Or you could just watch the film Troy). Trojan horses don’t duplicate themselves like a virus does, but it is designed to steal secret information from computer users. As people shared more software during the 80s, so too did the Trojans and viruses spread – like blood seeping from the wound of a Trojan soldier as he exhales his final breath, the stars in the night sky shining in his darkening eyes (that simile was for you, Homer).

And a worm? A worm doesn’t need human interaction for it to spread, and a single user’s computer is capable of sending out a multitude of worms to many people in one go. The first known worm came about in 1988, when Robert Morris’s worm took down 10% of computers connected to the internet of that time.

I remember one of the first times I used the internet, or the World Wide Web more correctly. It was during a Geography or Science lesson at school around 1998/1999, and although we had a few computer rooms at school, there was only one tiny room with about ten computers that were linked to the internet. I think you had to pay to use the internet access outside of lessons. I distinctly remember being on a website in this lesson I was in, and thinking: what is this? I read the text on the web page, and then when I realised I could click on it and highlight it, I thought I could perhaps edit it too, and tried to type over it. Didn’t work. I didn’t really understand what the point was – I had the Hutchinson Multimedia CD-ROM to do my school work back then.

I can remember how it looked – when internet pages were simple framesets with large clumps of text in an array of font colours (black, red or blue) and tiny images. I think of it now whenever I click onto a webpage these days that has some faulty coding language and so doesn’t load properly. It looked a bit like this:

I’ve noticed that for some reason, bed and breakfast owners still use websites that look like this.

Without launching into a full-scale history of the internet and the World Wide Web, my brief post on computer flu history ends here.

Dangerous Jobs for Women: Sexual Objectification in Science and War

“Support the relief organisation: Mother and Child”

Someone I know had a baby yesterday, and it got me thinking about a post I’ve been thinking of writing for a while. Women are strong to have babies and it’s usually a positive experience. But what can I say? With babies comes sex, and with sex in history, women have usually ended up playing the more … unfavourable roles. I have to warn you – this is strong stuff.

At Christmas, I went to my partner’s grandparents. His grandfather is always telling stories and some of them feature the Second World War. Around the time of the war, I guess it was after, when there were English soldiers in Germany, he was stationed there. He told us about how the soldiers of different nations used to do swaps – items of food and such. Then he said about a young German woman who he spent time with at this point, and used to go and see. He said she had a baby, after she was made pregnant by a German soldier. I said,

“You mean, she was in something like the joy division?”

He said, “Yes.” It almost put me off my food.

The first time I heard the term “Joy Division” was in relation to the late 1970s’ band . The first time I came to learn of what it meant was when I watched the film Control about Ian Curtis – the lead singer of the band. They named their band after a prostitution wing in a concentration camp that featured in the novella The House of Dolls. There were two strong forms of sexual objectification in Nazi Germany: on one side there were brothels with forced prostitutes – joy divisions, on the other, the idealistic baby farms with voluntarily and involuntarily impregnated women. Whilst it’s not proven that the novella is based on any diaries, researchers have evidence of female prisoners being bussed through Nazi concentration camps to become sex slaves  in the brothels of the men’s army barracks. This was Himmler’s idea – what better way to relieve his hard working men? So female prisoners were forced into prostitution. Though the Nazis maintained they were against brothels, they had state-run prostitution houses throughout Europe. And for female prisoners, threatened into it or coerced into becoming prostitutes through promises of decent food and their release from the brothel in half a year, it was the only chance they had to save their lives.

Aryan baby farms were another disturbing component of the grand Nazi regime that sought to establish their super Aryan race, in which SS men fathered “super babies”. Blonde hair, blue eyes – you know the rest. Either children with the right look were stolen from their parents across Europe, or they were produced by Aryan couples, or impregnated women. After the war, many of these Aryan babies were hidden away shamefully from society, in mental institutions and the like. In this article, it’s interesting that one of these men who was once a super baby, surmises that had the Nazis won, he may have been someone of high office in the Nazi leadership today. And people like me wouldn’t be alive. He was born amongst 2,800 other babies at the Third Reich’s first breeding centre in Lebensborn which means “spring of life”. The plans were drawn up for these farms by Hitler and his men, including Himmler (again), as far back as 1932.

And the so-called “pure-bred” women involved?

Racial selection agents scouted out innocent women in countries across the world that Hitler planned to overrun, to become mothers, or more correctly, baby mules. Many of these women were forcefully taken to Lebensborn, and alongside voluntary women, become the bearers of the “super race”. Married couples were also encouraged to have sex elsewhere to help produce this blonde haired Aryan race (personally, I think the Scandinavians beat them to it), and the women who volunteered to have up to four babies received the Mother’s Cross – the Mutterkreuz:

Many of these babies survived, some were experimented upon, but any with disabilities were killed. The idea of women being forced into this position is horrendous, but the idea of women volunteering for it baffles me. Or at least it used to, until I watched a programme about another “super race”.

After the Russian revolution in 1917, and more importantly, the death of Lenin in 1924, the Soviets looked into the idea of creating a brand new super race themselves – between man and ape. This idea was fronted by the Bolsheviks – a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (try saying that first thing in the morning), who were worried that their ideas would die out with their lives. So to combat this, Stalin ordered the top animal-breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, to develop a new race, that would be resistant to illnesses and so live longer. He came up with the idea of mixing human blood with another species, that of an ape. So how did they do it?

He tried to impregnate apes in Africa through artificial insemination, but when this failed, he tried the opposite: women volunteers were to be impregnated with ape sperm. Some women signed up. But this operation also failed, when the only postpubescent male ape left in the study died. When this also failed, Ivanov was sent to prison and then exiled in Kazakhstan.

So why did the women sign up? They felt they had a strong patriotic duty to their country, as did, I’m sure, the Nazi women volunteers of the baby farming program. They believed they were the first steps toward a super race, and they were proud to create human-ape hybrids.

A darker side of Russian history concerning the treatment of women is what happened after the Second World War, when the Red Army (the Workers’ and Peasants’ Army) “freed” the countries of Eastern Europe from Nazi occupation.

“Facism is woman’s worst enemy. All on the fight with facism!”

“Revenge for the people’s misery!”

“Glory to the liberators of Ukraine!”

It’s a well-known fact that as the Soviets marched through Europe, they raped woman after girl after woman “from eight to 80” years old including those in Russia. It’s so well-known in fact, that the Russian government today ignores it. Which doesn’t make sense. Or at least, there is now a law in Russia that prevents people from promoting anything negative against Russian history – this included. Surely these rape victims deserve some sort of apology? Instead, they face denial. If only these idealistic posters were true to life. Alas. Propaganda never is.

Russia wasn’t the only nation to sexually abuse women and girls during the Second World War. Japan is known to have stolen young women and girls, some barely teenagers, and forced them into becoming sex slaves for the soldiers. I always remember reading one account from a woman who was 14 at the time, and she was playing in her front garden when a man pulled up in a car. He got out and asked her if she wanted to go for a ride in his car. She said, “Yes.” He never took her back home.

These girls and women were known as “comfort women” – as they “comforted” the Japanese soldiers. They weren’t just from Japan, but also a number of other countries including Korea, China, the Philippines and many more. One woman, Jan Ruff-O’Herne, explains how not only was she systematically beaten and raped every night, but also how she and others were raped by the Japanese doctor who checked them for venereal disease. At least some Japanese leaders have apologised to these women.

Finally, I come to the treatment of “Nazi Collaborators” at the end of the Second World War. Across the European nations, civilians were turning on themselves, accusing and punishing others for “collaborating” with the Nazis. Whilst there were a lot of collaborators during the war in Nazi-occupied countries, many people were simply trying to get on with life, and accepting Nazi soldiers was a part of that. For many, this was it – this was the forseeable future. In places like the Channel Islands and France, their governments had failed them – so what hope was there? In particular, I always found the treatment of French women at the end of the Second World War horrific. These so-called “German collaborators” were made an example of in their towns and villages – they had their heads shaved as a form of desexualisation and were paraded around like cattle at an auction.

These were young women, many of them teenagers, and many were simply prostitutes who treated every man with the same value: as trade. And there were male collaborators too, so why did these women bear the brunt of fraternising with the enemy? Yes, a couple of the French leaders were imprisoned, but what of the civilian male population? The not so funny thing is that although some of these French women were prostitutes, they were the ones that inevitably paid the price for their sexual encounters.

There are more stories and facts from more modern history concerning these issues, but I think that’s enough for now. Instead, I’m going to go and look at nice pictures of a newborn baby. And I’ll be thinking to myself: What a relief that I live here and now.