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Foreign fighters who did Britain proud

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  • Lucyna Artymiuk
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/7854877/Foreign-fighters-who-did-Britain-proud.html Foreign fighters who did Britain proud A new Channel 4 series
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 26, 2010
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      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/7854877/Foreign-fighters-who-did-Britain-proud.html






      Foreign fighters who did Britain proud


      A new Channel 4 series tells how outside help was crucial at Trafalgar and the Battle of Britain.




      By Iain Hollingshead
      Published: 5:35PM BST 25 Jun 2010

      Comment <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/7854877/Foreign-fighters-who-did-Britain-proud.html#disqus_thread> on this

      Artist John Callow's The Battle of Trafalgar

      Artist John Callow's The Battle of Trafalgar

      At 11.30am on October 21, 1805, as the British fleet prepared to fight the French and Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, hoisted its famous nine-word signal: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

      To 1,400 of the 18,000 men in Nelson’s fleet, however, this rallying cry meant little. For as The Untold Battle of Trafalgar, part of Channel 4’s new Bloody Foreigners series, reveals, almost 10 per cent of Nelson’s sailors were foreigners. Made up of 25 different nationalities, including Swedes, Danes, Portuguese, Americans and even French, they joined what Justin Hardy, the programme-maker, calls “the equal opportunities employer of the 18th century” – lured by the prospect of sharing a potential bounty fund of £1.5  million.



      “The Battle of Trafalgar needs to be reviewed in a new light,” says Hardy. “Not so much as a battle for king and country, but as a battle in which the Navy offered the biggest bonuses of the 18th century.”

      Bloody Foreigners is an engaging four-part drama-documentary series which highlights the role played by foreigners at crucial moments in British history.Admittedly, British history consists of rather a lot of crucial moments, as well as its fair share of foreigners. But the series picks its events well, with the best two episodes – The Untold Battle of Trafalgar and The Untold Battle of Britain, which tells the story of Polish Squadron 303 in the Autumn of 1940 – offering intriguing insights into two battles that are thought of as quintessentially British. (For details on the other two programmes in the series see box, right.)

      Both make impressive use of primary sources. In the case of the Battle of Trafalgar it is the diaries of Lieutenant Cumby of HMS Bellerophon, discovered by the production team in the private collection of one of his direct ancestors, cross-referenced with the National Maritime Museum’s detailed records of Bellerophon’s crew, including names, skin colour, nationality, height and even previous occupation.

      So we learn that Bellerophon had 10 black soldiers on board, including Samuel Marlow, 24, a former Jamaican slave, working as a wardroom steward. Other non-British sailors included Thomas Harris, a white American; Peter Jensen, a Swede and sometime slave; and John Seigneur, who had fled France shortly after the Revolution.

      The Untold Battle of Britain also relies on a diary – that of the Polish pilot Miroslaw “Ox” Feric. This episode charts the story of Squadron 303, 150 or so Polish officers, pilots and ground staff who had made their way to Britain via Romania and France to continue fighting the Nazis after the invasion of their homeland, and were brought together into a squadron as part of an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the British.

      Battle-hardened, rested, angry and well-trained on slow, inferior aircraft – they had learnt to open fire at under 200 yards – they were unstoppable in British Hurricanes, claiming a hundred kills in less than a month, making them the most effective squadron in the Battle of Britain. One newspaper called them “the glamour boys of England”. They were popular with the girls, and with George VI, who visited. A number of historians have pointed out the narrow margin of victory at the Battle of Britain, and the Poles’ role in securing it.

      The stories of how both the Poles and the foreigners on HMS Bellerophon were treated after their respective battles is also instructive. A huge storm in the week after Trafalgar meant that the Royal Navy lost many of the ships it had captured; the total prize fund was valued at a disappointing £123,000. However, the government added an extra £300,000, with the result that the average sailor received a bonus of around £7, or six-months’ salary. Samuel Marlow, the wardroom steward from Jamaica, received an additional £10 for his injured foot.

      As Professor David Dabydeen, from the University of Warwick, describes it, foreigners “were treated with a degree of equality which is remarkable”.

      In 1815, however, nearly all foreign seamen were dismissed; many of them ended up begging. The Polish fighter aces of the Second World War were also victims of events outside their control. Many met a tragic end back in Communist Poland, and they were not invited to the Allied victory march in London in 1946 for fear of annoying Stalin. “It broke his heart,” says Witold Urbanowicz, son of the pilot of the same name.

      One of the Poles interviewed, Josefa Sobieska, a driver with another bomber squadron, says that they were never really welcomed by the English.

      “Polite,” she says. “We know of English politeness, but not a real welcome.”

      However, other relatives of the Polish pilots have spoken of their love for Britain and the pride they would have taken in this documentary, pointing out that they were not fighting for England, but for Poland. A Polish memorial stands at RAF Northolt. And, if you look closely at Nelson’s column, one of the sailors depicted is black.

      It is to this series’s credit that it doesn’t attempt to draw any glib conclusions about the role of foreigners in British history, preferring to tell familiar stories from a new dramatic angle.

      Such history is in any case too complex for glibness – as the BNP discovered last March when they used an image of a Spitfire to front a campaign against eastern European immigration to Britain. It turned out to be one flown by 303 Squadron.

      - The Bloody Foreigners series begins on Monday on Channel 4 at 9.00pm and continues daily until Thursday





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