The Collaborator: Violette Morris

VM1The French resistance opened hunting season on collaborators in the spring. On 26 April 1944 they machine-gunned Violette Morris to death as she stepped out of her Citroën Traction Avant on a Normandy country road between Épaignes and Lieurey.

Morris was chauffeuring a local pork butcher called Bailleul, his wife, and their two young children. A carriage blocked the road. The Citroën stopped and Morris got out with a pistol in her hand.

Submachineguns opened fire from the treeline. Violette Morris and her four passengers died.

The attackers knew her as a cross-dressing traitor responsible for the deaths of their comrades. Morris’ friends remembered a bisexual race car driver, interwar celebrity, and champion weight-lifter who was friends with Jean Cocteau. It was complicated.

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Blood on the Canvas: African-Americans, Haile Selassie, and Italian Fascism

LL1It was a beautiful right cross, straight to the jaw. The big Italian folded up in the middle of the ring. He got up and fell to his knees and got up again but he was swaying.

Yankee Stadium was full of 64,000 people tonight. A scrum of men in suits and ties and hats plus a few women who didn’t mind getting blood on their mink wraps, all roaring down from their seats at a boxing ring the size of a postage stamp. The Italian-Americans were telling Primo Carnera to stay on his feet and keep his guard up, their black hair glossy in the lights. African-Americans shouted at Joe Louis to finish him, Joe, finish him and shadow-boxed with whatever fist wasn’t holding a cigarette.

Commentators ringside talked fast into their microphones for the folks at home. Photographers popped off another bulb in cameras big as a box of groceries. Louis stalked a glassy Carnera around the ring.

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A Joy Division Bibliography: Part 1

Ian Curtis 1When we take something apart, we understand it better but appreciate it less. Welcome to the world of books about the best post-punk band to come out of Manchester. Anyone who wants to keep their hero worship intact should look away.

Joy Division maintained their mystery for decades after the band imploded following the 1980 suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis. The band rarely gave interviews and let the music speak for itself, an approach that continued when the surviving members became New Order.

Anyone who wanted to find out more about the band had to forensically analyse music press reports or buy the few, thin cash-in biographies that appeared in the aftermath of Curtis’ death. That all changed in 1995 when the singer’s wife published her account of their marriage. Then the floodgates opened as band members and associates wrote their own books that spilled the inside story.

Here’s a look at the best of them.

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Links: October 2019

HalloweenWelcome all. We’re stuck deep into an autumn of golden leaves and woollen scarfs in the park. Summer is dead and Winter is rising. The best time of the year.

I’m coming to the end of my book on the Bonny-Lafont gang of crooks who terrorised wartime Paris. That sound you can hear is the bone protruding from my fingertips clacking on keyboard. It’s been a long ride.

To celebrate Autumn, Halloween, and all things in between, here’s some links to good things on the internet. Some of it’s spooky. Some of it’s just plain disturbing.

Drink your drinks, click your links, and remember to visit the graves of your ancestors on All Saints Day. Enjoy.

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King of Greece Killed by Monkey in Palace Garden

LRS267129A few years back I wrote about the death of Basil Murray during the Spanish Civil War. A weak-willed alcoholic, Murray is best remembered for providing a model for the character of Basil Seal in various books by Evelyn Waugh.

He died in a bizarre way, bitten to death by a Barbary Macaque while unconscious in a Valencia hotel room. Turns out Barbary apes are dangerous monkeys.

Very dangerous, in fact. One killed King Alexander of Greece in 1920 after a stroll in the royal gardens. The new King was twenty-seven-years-old and his country involved in a bitter war against the remnants of the Ottoman Empire.

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Who was Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad, Part 2?

OJ 1I first wrote about the fate of Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad a few years ago. The Norwegian travelled to Syria in 2015 hoping to get involved in the war. He ended up an Islamic State hostage and dead. Someone who knew Grimsgaard-Ofstad well got in touch recently with a lot more information about this Quixotic right-winger. It’s quite a story.

Knut F. Thoresen is a Norwegian soldier and writer. His most recent book is out now. Nordmenn i krig: 1850-2019 (Norwegians at War) examines how his fellow countrymen have volunteered for every major war, and quite a few minor ones, since the mid-nineteenth century onward. Spain, Bosnia, Korea, WW1, WW2, Rhodesia. If you read Norwegian it’s an essential book and highly recommended.

Thoresen knew Grimsgaard-Ofstad well, first encountering him at school. He shared his memories of this unusual man by email.

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A Cultural History of Russian Roulette in America

RRYou are shown into a large room. You are nervous. Your heart races, your palms are sweating lightly. Your chair sits facing a long table. Behind the table a panel of faces look at you coldly. A man gets up and stands next to you.

‘We are going to play Russian Roulette,’ he says. Is he crazy? Do they expect you to risk your life for a job? You look at the panel. They are serious. You look at the speaker. He forms his fingers into the shape of a gun.

‘This,’ he says, ‘is a six chamber revolver.’ He puts it to your temple. ‘It has one bullet in it.’ He jerks his finger. ‘Click. No bullet in that chamber. I’m going to pull the trigger again. Before I do that, do you want me to spin the cylinder of the revolver? You have three seconds to answer.’

The panel are looking at you intensely, analysing your reaction. Welcome to the favourite situation of high powered job interviewers. Answering complex questions under pressure. Can you give the right answer?

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