March is both Women’s History Month and International Women’s Month, which includes the marking of International Women’s Day on March 8th. In particular, as a history graduate and a feminist the former appeals to me greatly, and I decided to dig out a blog post I wrote way back in May 2007 (on the subject of one of my historical heroines) in honour of the occasion. Almost three years on, it naturally needed a little dusting off, a little editing and a few slight re-writes in places (and it’s also a little long) – but I hope you are as fascinated by the story of Noor Inayat Khan as I am.
“Nothing, neither her nationality, nor the traditions of her family, none of these obliged her to take her position in the war. However she chose it. It is our fight that she chose, that she pursued with an admirable, an invincible courage” – Madame de Gaulle-Anthonioz at the memorial service for Noor Inayat Khan.
The memory of Noor Inayat Khan is, in the main, ignored in this country; unlike in France, where she is justly considered a heroine – ‘Madeleine dans la Resistance‘. But who was this girl with the pretty, exotic name, who is so revered by the French? And why should we care about her today?
We should care because this woman did something amazing, something most modern women (and men) would probably find almost impossible – considering our pampered 21st century lives.
Oh Thierry Henry, what did you have to go and do that for? You, of all people. Despite being a life-long Spurs supporter, I have always been a great fan of yours; you were one of those rare and special footballers it was always such a pleasure to watch, no matter which team you played for. One of those players who, despite all the greed and arrogance in modern football, made me remember why I fell in love with the Beautiful Game in the first place.
But then, in a crucial World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland last week, you did a Maradona, and the poor old Republic unfairly went crashing out after neither referee nor linesmen spotted your blatant handball. And blatant it was too. Quite ridiculously so. You even compounded the offence with your comments after the game: “It was necessary to exploit what was exploitable”, you said, as if that somehow justified what was, without question, cheating. How could you?
However, Henry’s out-of-character double handball is not the first instance of blatant cheating in sport this year. In some cases, this cheating has just been childishly sad, as with the deliberate F1 crashes, while in others it has veered towards out-and-out fraud, as with the outrageous and notorious Harlequins ‘Bloodgate’ incident (and what with Quins being the rugby union side I support, this scandal made me particularly angry), and the recent Champions League match fixing arrests.
It is difficult to know how to remedy such examples of dishonesty, because if sportsmen and women – as with pretty much anyone else in any walk of life, unfortunately – think that there is the slightest possibility they might get away with it, they’ll try to do just that.
BENEATH THIS STONE RESTS THE BODY
OF A BRITISH WARRIOR
UNKNOWN BY NAME OR RANK
BROUGHT FROM FRANCE TO LIE AMONG
THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS OF THE LAND
AND BURIED HERE ON ARMISTICE DAY
11 NOV: 1920, IN THE PRESENCE OF
HIS MAJESTY KING GEORGE V
HIS MINISTERS OF STATE
THE CHIEFS OF HIS FORCES
AND A VAST CONCOURSE OF THE NATION
THUS ARE COMMEMORATED THE MANY
MULTITUDES WHO DURING THE GREAT
WAR OF 1914 – 1918 GAVE THE MOST THAT
MAN CAN GIVE LIFE ITSELF
FOR KING AND COUNTRY
FOR LOVED ONES HOME AND EMPIRE
FOR THE SACRED CAUSE OF JUSTICE AND
THE FREEDOM OF THE WORLD
THEY BURIED HIM AMONG THE KINGS BECAUSE HE
HAD DONE GOOD TOWARD GOD AND TOWARD
Inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey
The Western Front, 1916:
The Reverend David Railton is doing his rounds as a frontline chaplain for the British army in France, providing spiritual and pastoral support for the young men in his care, many of whom have been fighting in the trenches for upwards of two years. His is not an easy job, but, as a Church of England clergyman, he feels he has both a calling and a responsibility to look after these soldiers, some of whom are no more than boys.
He is rapidly becoming more and more appalled by the death and destruction he sees around him, and is particularly moved by a simple, makeshift grave he comes across in a garden near Armentieres that day. The grave consists of a rough wooden cross, carefully inscribed in pencil: “An Unknown British Soldier of The Black Watch”. The simple inscription and the care taken in commemorating a fallen comrade sets Railton thinking, and eventually results in one of the most famous and moving war memorials of them all…
*WARNING: POSSIBLE TRIGGERS BELOW*
I was interested to note yesterday that film director Roman Polanski has been arrested in Switzerland. Most reports seem to concur that he has been detained over a thirty-one year old outstanding arrest warrant, connected to the 1978 scandal in which Polanski pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse (read: rape) with a 13 year old girl – after which he fled to Europe to escape justice, and eventually became a French citizen.
There has been an awful lot of distinctly male hand-wringing over Polanski’s arrest, with the French culture minister Frederic Mitterrand commenting that he “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them”. In a way, Mitterrand does have a point, but only sort of – Polanski’s life has not been a bed of roses by any stretch of the imagination, but no amount of childhood ordeals excuse his later behaviour in any way, shape or form. There is NEVER any excuse for rape, not even this kind of hellish childhood…
Born in Paris of secular Jewish parents in 1933, the Polanski family moved back to their native Poland in 1936. They were living in the city of Krakow when the Nazis invaded three years later, and were forced into the Krakow Ghetto soon after. Polanski’s father survived the camps, but his mother died in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Polanksi himself only just survived the war in hiding with Polish Catholic families (which may explain why he was so drawn to the idea of making a film of The Pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman’s memoir of life in hiding in the Warsaw Ghetto), before moving back to France and subsequently the US.