The heavy artillery had damaged the town walls and the moat had been filled with bundles of sticks, ready for the final onslaught. But still the inhabitants of Caen refused to surrender.
By 4 September 1417 Henry V and his army had been besieging the Norman town for 17 days.
That morning Henry heard three masses in his pavilion and ordered the advance. The army assaulted the town on three sides, using scaling-ladders to climb the walls.
As the trumpets blared and the troops rushed forward, the inhabitants fought desperately, throwing down rocks, boiling water and burning oil from the battlements, and shooting bows and crossbows, before reaching for their swords and taking up the hand-to-hand struggle.
Their efforts were in vain. The king’s brother, the Duke of Clarence, broke the resistance of the townsmen on his side of Caen, and the fighting moved into the streets. When the struggle was over, Henry ordered that every male over the age of 12 be killed – or so claimed a Venetian chronicler.
Eighteen hundred men and boys were put to death. A Dominican friar demanded of Henry how he could justify such killing. Henry replied in perhaps the most chilling tones imaginable: “I am the scourge of God sent to punish the people of God for their sins”.
For most English readers, this depiction of Henry V in action is difficult to accept. Surely Henry was a good man, and a great king? He was the Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays, as well as the charming, wooing, gracious and triumphant monarch in Henry V.
He founded monasteries, piously heard several masses every day, went on pilgrimages and contributed to the completion of Westminster Abbey. He was an English hero in his own lifetime – and a legendary figure in later years.
The influential 20th-century academic KB McFarlane described Henry as “the greatest man who ever ruled England”.
Hence the modern patriot instinctively argues that, if there was a massacre at Caen, there must have been a reason for it, and that attempts to condemn Henry for ordering the killing are simply a failure to understand the circumstances.
The fact is that the massacre at Caen is just one of many bloody events that mark out Henry V as one of the cruellest and most cold hearted kings that England has had.
Caen was not his first massacre – that had taken place at Agincourt in 1415, when he had ordered 200 English archers to cut the throats of a large number of French prisoners. Nor was it his last.
Similarly ruthless acts of brutality against the French took place at Pontoise (1419), Melun (1420), Rougemont (1421) and Meaux (1422).
At the siege of Rouen in the autumn and winter of 1418–19, the women and children who were sent out of the town during the siege found themselves trapped in the town ditch.
Henry forced them to stay there, without food or shelter, despite the harshness of the weather.
As far as he was concerned, they were the responsibility of the starving townsmen. Like the people of Caen, it was right that they should suffer for their countrymen’s ‘sins’.
Harjit follows the Sikh practice of wearing a turban and not cutting his hair or beard, but he talks with an accent that puts him in the league of Paul Hogan.
Harjit’s passion for breaking down prejudice led him to co-found the organisation Australian Sikh Heritage, which aims to promote the ties Australia has with Sikhs.
“One part of that rich shared heritage is with Anzacs and the Sikhs, and then a very important touch point in WWII being Manmohan Singh,” he says.
Sikh religion branched off from Hinduism around 500 years ago with the concept of the saint-soldier.
As well as a moral code the religion instructs followers to fight for truth and justice. Both world wars provided many Sikhs with a welcome opportunity to practice the soldier side of their beliefs.
“Sikhs are only two per cent of India’s population; however they contributed one-third of the million people that went from India as part of the volunteer army in WWI,” Harjit says.
Sikhs fought alongside the Anzacs at Gallipoli with the 14th Sikh Regiment suffering possibly the highest casualty rate of any force during the Gallipoli campaign, with only 4 survivors.
“379 Sikh officers died on the 4th of June in 1915; it virtually wiped out the 14th Sikh Regiment,” says Harjit.
These Sikhs were mostly from India, but research by Australian Sikh Heritage has also identified ten Sikhs from Australia who served as part of the Australian Imperial Force during WWI.
In WWII Australians and Sikhs found themselves fighting on the same side once again. While the Sikhs’ biggest role in this war was in Europe, they were also active closer to Australia.
But one of the great mysteries for Sikh military history has been traced back to Broome, in North Western Australia.
Manmohan Singh was the first Sikh to train to fly, and became well known before WWI when he participated in a competition to become the first person to fly from India to England.
As an accomplished pilot, Manmohan Singh was one of the first group of Indians to travel to England to join the Royal Air Force in 1939.
After hunting submarines in the Atlantic from a Sunderland flying boat, he was promoted to Flying Officer and given command of a Catalina flying boat in the Philippines.
But as the Japanese forces advanced south through Asia, Manmohan Singh was forced to withdraw south along with other allies. He eventually landed his Catalina on Roebuck Bay at Broome, which was thought by many to be out of range of Japanese planes.
Manmohan Singh was onboard his flying boat moored on Roebuck Bay on the morning of 3rd March, 1942.
Nine Japanese Zeroes fitted with detachable, long-distance fuel tanks strafed his plane along with 22 others that day. Manmohan Singh died during that action.
In 1943, Bethnal Green in East London experienced one of its worst wartime tragedies. Not from bombs or flying shrapnel, but something potentially far deadlier: panic.
Memorial plaque commemorating the victims of an accident on the southeastern staircase of Bethnal Green tube station during an air raid alert in 1943. (Image: Sunil060902)
During a routine air raid siren test, civilians on their way to shelter in the Tube station all happened to converge on the entrance at once.
In their panic to get downstairs, some people tripped… and then the stampede began.
As more and more people fell to their knees and bodies kept piling in the door, the panic became a deadly crush. One hundred and seventy-three people were trampled to death, including at least 41 children.
The disaster was Britain’s worst civilian tragedy in the entire war.
Photo: Underground Tube Stations in London were used regularly as bomb shelters
Over 70 years after the accident, its memory still scars the station. Underground staff and late night passengers have reported hearing women screaming and the sound of children crying.
Do the voices of the dead still linger beneath East London’s streets?
The only way to be sure is to go down there late at night and find out for yourself.
Photo: Workmen repairing the stairs after the tragedy.
Here in the early 21st century, many parks and zoos offer motorized scooters for people who can’t or would rather not walk around.
But it’s far from a new concept, as you can see in this photo from 1918.
The December 1918 issue of Electrical Experimenter magazine included this description of the “electric roller chair” newly available at the Bronx Zoo:
Pleasure can now be mixed with knowledge at the New York Zoo by those who go there to study the animals. No more will it be necessary to walk miles upon miles to study all the exhibits on display in the greatest menagerie in America. Just get your electric roller chair — make believe you are on the board-walk at Atlantic City — and see all that is worth seeing in Bronx Park.
A twist of the hand lever and away you spin on your trip to see the lions, polar bears, giraffes, and monkeys.
A storage battery concealed within the car body furnishes the electric current to actuate the motor which propels the vehicle.
Electric headlights are provided for night travel as well as an electric siren to warn pedestrian traffic.
Thomas Muentzer (1489-1525) started as a follower of Martin Luther’s. He may have even heard some of Luther’s lectures. He certainly read Luther.
The message he got from Luther, above all, was “scripture alone”. And when he read scripture alone, he went his own way. For Luther, Thomas Muentzer was the epitome of someone who misunderstood the message. Luther saw this as a spiritual battle. Thomas Muentzer was not willing to make the distinction between spiritual and worldly that Luther was.
So Thomas Muentzer, in reading the Bible and especially the Old Testament, felt that to be a good Christian you had to change society in various ways, and that just like the prophets had used force to convert the infidels in the Old Testament, that Muentzer and his followers had the right to use force to deal with those people who opposed the gospel.
Luther did not believe in that. For Luther, that was Satan at work. And he called Thomas Muentzer the Satan at Allstadt (that’s where Muentzer was preaching).
Thomas Muentzer had a role in part of the Peasants’ War. The Peasants’ War occurred over large parts of the empire. But in one part in the north-central area, Thomas Muentzer was the leader of a band of peasants.
And for those peasants, he was taking the Old Testament images and bringing them to life, and telling them that just as all Christians were supposed to be free spiritually, they also were all to be equal and free economically and politically.
This was the rallying cry that galvanized his supporters. This was the rallying cry that brought the princes together to oppose it. …
One of the most famous battles in the Peasants’ War occurred at Frankenhausen, where the armies of the princes in the cities met the peasants’ bands led by Thomas Muentzer. The princes, by one report, attempted to find an end to the fight.
The peasants, however, saw a rainbow in the sky, and Muentzer’s flag had a rainbow on it, harkening back to the rainbow that Noah was given, the covenant with God.
And so as the princes load their cannons and the cavalry gets ready to charge, the peasants are singing, “Come, Holy Spirit,” believing that this battle is the final battle of Armageddon, and that God was going to break in and stop it right there.
But instead, the cannons fired. The knights charged. Of about 8,000 peasants, about 5,000 lost their lives.
And Muentzer himself was captured, cowering under a bed; tortured and executed three months later.
That was the end of Muentzer’s apocalyptic vision.