Oct 242014

FlagofSyriaIn 1986, we – the United Kingdom, that is – cut our diplomatic links with Syria over a bomb plot. Breaking off relations with them due to revelations of official complicity in a plot to blow up an El Al airliner, the Foreign Secretary said that there was ‘conclusive evidence’ of Syrian official involvement with Nezar Hindawi, who was understood to be planning to use a bomb which had been constructed at the Syrian Embassy building in London. The Syrian ambassador, Dr Loutof Haydar, was expelled from the United Kingdom, a decision which he said was ‘nonsense’.

The government’s decision came a few hours after Nezar was sentenced to 45 years imprisonment for plotting to blow up the Israeli airliner flight to Tel Aviv.

syria-04Hindawi held a Syrian passport normally reserved for government officials. He attempted to blow up the flight by planting a timer bomb inside his girlfriend’s hand luggage. Ann Murphy had been under the impression that he would follow her on a later flight. When the bomb was discovered, Nezar went to the Syrian embassy in London where he was allegedly told he had done ‘good things’. He was taken to a safe house and given a disguise …. obviously not a very good one, as he was caught when he left the safe house to go to a hotel.

The expulsion of the Syrian Embassy official was the first time an ambassador had ever been removed for being involved in criminal activities. Following their their expulsion the Syrian authorities admitted Hindawi was carrying a Syrian passport in a false name and that two separate visa applications had official support. It was also admitted that he met the ambassador immediately after the discovery of the bomb and that he then stayed in accommodation belonging to a member of the Syrian Embassy.

Syria’s response was to cut all links with us, including closing airspace and sea ports to British planes and ships. With the current climate, perhaps this decision in 1986 was no bad thing….

Oct 232014

In Thailand, this is Chulalongkorn Day, commemorating the death of King Chulalongkorn, also known as King Rama V, on 23 October 1910. He was born in 1853 and his 42-year reign is celebrated as a time of major reform and modernisation, including the abolitchulalongkornion of slavery, the introduction of postal and telegraph services, and the building of roads, railways, hospitals and schools. He features in Anna and the King of Siam, a novel by Margaret Landon – based loosely on fact and subsequently adapted for stage and screen as The King and I – his father King Mongkut was the King of Siam who employed Anna Leonowens as governess to Prince Chulalongkorn, heir to the throne, and his many siblings.

He was the fifth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri. He was known to the Siamese of his time as Phra Phuttha Chao Luang (The Royal Buddha) and is considered to be one of the greatest kings of Siam. As Siam was threatened by Western expansionism, Chulalongkorn, through his policies and acts, managed to save Siam from being colonised. All his reforms were dedicated to Siam’s insurance of survival in the midst of Western colonialism and he earned the epithet Phra Piya Maharat (The Great Beloved King).

The Royal Equestrian Statue of Chulalongkorn was finished in 1908 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the king’s reign. It was cast in bronze by a Parisian metallurgist and then placed on the marble.

Chulalongkorn had visited Europe twice in 1897 and 1907; the latter occasion was to cure his kidney disease. His last accomplishment was the establishment of a plumbing system in 1908. He died on 23 October 1910 of his kidney disease in Dusit Palace and was succeeded by his son Vajiravudh. Anyone fancy doing a Chulalongkorn surname study?

Oct 222014

George Blake (born George Behar on 11 November 1922) was a British spy and was uncovered in 1961 as a double agent in the service of the Soviet Union. Sentenced to 42 years in prison, he escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison on this day in 1966 and fled to the USSR, as was.

Born in Rotterdam, Holland in 1922, George was the son of a Dutch mother from a Protestant background and an Egyptian Jewish father who was a naturalised British subject…. not too complicated a start in life! He was apparently named George after King George V. His father, Albert Behar, fought against the Ottoman Empire in the First World War despite his origins in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and received awards from the French and British for his gallantry. Albert died in the Netherlands in 1936 and George was sent to live with relatives in Egypt, where he continued his education at the English School, Cairo.

As a teenager, George was a runner for the anti-Nazi Dutch resistance under the nom de guerre of Max de Vries. He was interned but released temporarily because of his age. He would have been re-interned on his eighteenth birthday had he not escaped to London, disguised as a monk! In England, he anglicised his name and became George Blake, working for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). He intended to marry an MI6 secretary, Iris Peake, but her family did not allow their marriage because of Blake’s Jewish background.

GeorgeBlakeFor the duration of World War II, Blake’s work involved translating German documents captured by British agents and interrogating Germans captured in France following the D-Day landings. In 1955, he was sent by MI6 to work as a case officer in Berlin, where his task was to recruit Soviet officers as double agents. He made contact with the KGB and informed them of the details of British and American operations. In the course of almost a decade, he betrayed details of almost forty MI6 agents to the Soviets, destroying most of MI6’s operations in Eastern Europe.

In 1961, Polish defector Michael Goleniewski exposed him as a Soviet agent and George was arrested when he arrived in London from Lebanon. In May 1961, after a trial at the Old Bailey, he was sentenced to the maximum term of 14 years consecutively on each of three counts of spying for a potential enemy and 14 years concurrently on both the two remaining counts – a total of 42 years imprisonment – by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker of Waddington.

Five years later, on 22 October 1966, Blake escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison with the assistance of three men whom he met in jail: Sean Bourke and two anti-nuclear campaigners, Michael Randle and Pat Pottle. Blake fled to the USSR, divorced his wife – with whom he had three children – and started a new life. He is pictured, right, in Moscow in 1975.

As far as I can make out, he is still living in Moscow, Russia, on a KGB pension. He denies being a traitor, insisting that he never felt British: ‘To betray, you first have to belong. I never belonged.’ The question is: does George belong in the Blake surname study, Elizabeth?!

Oct 212014

…..the signal sent from Admiral Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory before the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, the most significant naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, establishing British supremacy at sea for many years thereafter. The British fleet, led by Lord Nelson (1758-1805), attacked an allied fleet of Spanish and French ships off Cape Trafalgar (east of Cádiz) with the intention of preventing them from passing through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. Nelson’s tactics outwitted the commander of the Spanish and French fleet, Villeneuve (1763-1806), and the British won the day.HMSVic

At the height of the battle, a musket shot fatally wounded Lord Nelson and his illustrious career was brought to an untimely end. As he lay dying in the cockpit of the HMS Victory, frequent reports on the progress of the battle were brought to him by Captain Thomas Hardy. His last request was said to be ‘Kiss me Hardy’ before he died with the words, ‘Now I am satisfied. Thank God, I have done my duty.’ I think perhaps these words did not relate directly to kissing Captain Hardy but who knows….

Trafalgar Square in London, dominated by Nelson’s Column, commemorates the British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and today is celebrated as Trafalgar Day with parades and other ceremonies.

There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of plaques around the United Kingdom (and further afield) commemorating Lord Nelson in various ways from his birthplace to where he lived in 1798!



Oct 202014

Guildford FourThe Guildford pub bombings occurred on 5 October 1974. Two pubs in Guildford, Surrey were targeted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who detonated a six-pound gelignite bomb in each location. The pubs were selected as they were popular with British Army personnel stationed at the barracks in Pirbright. Sixty-five people were wounded and five people died in the bombing (four soldiers and one civilian).

At 20:30, the bomb in The Horse and Groom detonated, killing a 22-year-old local plasterer, Paul Craig, as well as two members of the Women’s Royal Army Corps and two Scots Guards. The other pub – The Seven Stars – was evacuated after the first blast and therefore, there were no serious injuries when the second bomb detonated at 21:00.

The bombings contributed to the speedy and unchallenged passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in November 1974, which were used by the Metropolitan Police to draw false confessions from the ‘Guildford Four’.

The bombings took place at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland. The Metropolitan Police were under enormous pressure to apprehend the IRA bombers responsible for the attacks in England. In December 1974, the police arrested three men and a woman, later known as the Guildford Four (pictured right). These were: Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson.

The Guildford Four were falsely convicted of the bombings in October 1975 and sentenced to life in prison. All the convictions were overturned on 20 October 1989 in the appeal courts after it was proven that the Guildford Four’s convictions had been based on confessions obtained by torture – as were some of the Maguire Seven’s convictions, which included Gerry Conlon’s father, Patrick “Giuseppe” Conlon, who sadly died in his third year of imprisonment.

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