Thursday, June 9, 2016

Edinburgh News! George Heriot's School Captured by German Troops!

The gateway... draped with the conquering symbols.
The German staff car drove through the arched entrance, its Mercedes engine purring, its occupants three high-ranking German officers. Few witnessed the invasion; the schoolchildren of George Heriot’s School were at morning lessons. The scattered boys out on the playing fields gave no notice, engrossed in their games. When four grey trucks followed suit, their attention was guaranteed.
The short approach road to the main building was walled on either side, not meant for large vehicles. The staff car in front, swept through the archway of the imposing building, and on into the ancient cobbles of the inner courtyard. Following suit, the trucks behind fanned out, braking loudly, their engines roaring in grizzly echoes between the four high walls. Suddenly a thousand faces were at windows, looking down as the trucks disgorged their human cargo; a hundred of Germany’s finest, jackbooted and coal-scuttle helmeted. As they spread out, their machine guns held at the ready, they looked cold and imposing.
The iconic image of Edinburgh Castle, 

The officers filed into the main entrance, their grim-faced soldiers behind.
“I am Captain Schoenberg. You have an hour to empty the building.” His expression did not expect protest. The generals behind him smiled in anonymity, looking smugly around. The soldiers were already filing into corridors on either side, and up wide staircases. The headmaster, roused by the commotion, soon made his way to the entrance, only to be buffeted outside into the courtyard. “What do you think you’re doing?” he protested, only to be nudged heartily in the ribs by a machine gun butt.

The haloed halls echoed with men’s guttural orders, their stereotypical brevity made no less forceful by the pupil’s and teacher’s understanding. “Raus! Raus! Schnell!” The boys had been brought up to Capt. W. E. Johns’ Biggles adventures, but now the cries were here, in their classrooms and hallways, forcing them out of classes and out into the courtyard.
Schoolboy cries soon joined the German ones, protests, screams, the plaintive cries of the younger boys.
It made no difference… just a thousand yards from the battlements of Edinburgh Castle, the infamous George Heriot’s School building had suddenly become the German headquarters in Edinburgh.


 Avenging Steel 1: The Fall of Edinburgh

Avenging Steel

As a writer, it's quite strange when a story takes over your imagination and writes itself. The above was one such case.
In my new Avenging Steel Alternative History series, I had decided that my character was going to George Heriot's School to a clandestine meeting. He walked past Greyfriar's Bobby on Forrest Road, and turned the corner onto Lauriston Place. I was remembering the imposing entrance to the school, thinking of its tall railings, the school grounds, the playing fields, the wonderful square baronial building with its interior courtyard... then the words just appeared on my page... the German trucks rolling through the archways, the noise in the courtyard, the jackbooted terrors kicking the pupils out onto the street... it made perfect sense... George Heriot's building would make the perfect Headquarters building in Edinburgh...
My character would have to make his clandestine meeting somewhere else.

Avenging Steel; available as an eBook and paperback, everywhere good books are sold.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Avenging Steel: The Fall of Edinburgh... "Scotland's own 'Man in the High Castle'."

Avenging Steel 1: The Fall of Edinburgh... the finest in Alternative History.
It is October 1940... 
In the last seven weeks, the German invasion of Britain, begun by a few thousand paratroopers, has swept the British Army to another 'Dunkirk'. Snatched from Oban, Ullapool, and a hundred islands, a quarter of a million of Britain's finest now rest in Canada.
For the moment, Britain is lost.
Churchill makes one valiant speech from the combined houses of the Irish Parliament, then he too is spirited away.


… let us not consider this a retreat, not a farewell to our homeland, but as a gathering for a new offensive. And let me make this promise to Herr Hitler; we will prepare, we will return, and we will never surrender…
Winston Churchill, October 7th, 1940, Dublin, Ireland

When German troops march triumphantly along the streets of Edinburgh, James Baird, a young philosophy student, feels drawn to watch. He is a student at Edinburgh university, and is ashamed he has done nothing in the defense of his country; watching the parade is his self-inflicted punishment.
1940, Princes Street, Edinburgh. People await the Nazi parade.
As he stands on Princes Street, looking down the deserted tram lines, he waits for the conquering heroes to arrive. Behind him the high ramparts of Edinburgh Castle are festooned with garish red swastika banners. Sickened by the music and swaggering Nazis, James can soon stand no more. he flees the scene and takes refuge in the Edinburgh University Union bar, determined to drown his sorrows before returning home.


Like Paris, three months before, troops march in Edinburgh. 

The new oppressors bring changes to his life that he cannot foresee. As his new role in German-controlled Edinburgh is revealed, he is determined to fight the new oppressors. In long novella parts, we follow James's story as a proud nation begins to rebel against the pressure of Nazi jackboots.

Thus begins, Avenging Steel, a new Alternative History series.


The title is taken from a verse in The Tree of Liberty, by Robert Burns, Scotland's famous national bard.

By her inspired the new born race
Soon grew the Avenging Steel, man;
The hirelings ran — her foes gied chase
And banged the despot weel, man.

Robert Burns

Described as "Scotland's own 'Man in the High Castle'."
Now available as an eBook.

To be honest, it felt kinda good... I've never been compared to Philip K. Dick before...

Monday, May 16, 2016

Cockney Rhyming Slang... Sneaking into Modern Colloquial English

 Dictionary of British Slang


Cockney Rhyming Slang is a form of English slang which began in the East End of London; a true 'Cockney', is a person born within earshot of the Bow bells.
To create a 'secret' language, Cockney Rhyming Slang replaces normal words with rhyming phrases.

eg; "I'm going out with the trouble and Strife tonight." (I'm going out with the wife tonight.)
"I'm looking smart tonight, got my Kylie Minogues on." (I'm looking smart tonight, I've got my brogues on)

The idea soon spread over the English-speaking world, and since those ancient days many non-Cockney phrases have been added.


Cockney Rhyming Slang has three distinct variations, each rarer than the other…

1st degree Cockney Rhyming Slang… By far the most commonly heard and used (when the rhyme is essential).
Example; “He went up the Apples and Pears.”
Meaning… He went up the stairs.
(Cockney Rhyming Slang for ‘stairs’, is ‘Apples and Pears’)

2nd degree Cockney Rhyming Slang… Less common, but thought to be more true to the 'secret' original form (when the rhyming part has been dropped)…
Example; “He kicked me in the Alberts!”
Meaning… He kicked me in the testicles (balls).
(Cockney Rhyming Slang for testicles (balls) is ‘Albert Halls’, but in this case the rhyming part (‘Halls’) is dropped, leaving the user with a brand new slang term)

3rd degree Cockney Rhyming Slang… Very rare. When the original rhyme has been dropped, and the other part of the original phrase has also been dropped, to be replaced by another word associated with it.
Example; “Calm down, mate, keep your Elvis.”
Meaning… "keep your hair on".
(Cockney Rhyming Slang for ‘hair-on’ is Aaron. But the original Aaron has been dropped being replaced by Elvis, an obvious associated word, although ‘Elvis’ was never in the original rhyming slang.) 

1st degree Cockney Rhyming Slang is pretty easy stuff; let's face it.... it rhymes!
However, when the rhyme is dropped, and you don't know the original phrase, you might be lost on the actual meaning. Even I was surprised how many of these phrases I used, never knowing or thinking they were originally Cockney Rhyming Slang!
See how many you recognize, some more complex than others… (I’ll use the abbreviation CRS for Cockney Rhyming Slang, and {r/w} for “rhymes with”).
Most are 2nd degree CRS.

He’s a bit Haigs…  (CRS- Haigs Dimple, {r/w} simple, ie; not that clever, dim.) (Haigs Whisky bottled a brand of their brew in a dimpled bottle, and the name stuck)

He just blew a raspberry at you...  . (CRS- Raspberry Tart; {r/w} fart.) 

Let’s have a butchers then…   (CRS- Butcher's Hook {r/w} look.)

Look at him, he hasn't got a Scooby... (CRS- Scooby Doo; {r/w} Clue.)

I don't like them, I'm a bit Listerine... 3rd degree... (maybe even 4th...) (Septic Tank; {r/w} Yank. Anti-Septic means anti-Yank (anti-American). Listerine is an anti-septic.

Look at him, he’s Brahms…   (CRS- Brahms & Liszt; {r/w} pissed, drunk) Brahms and Liszt were classical music composers.
 Available in eBooks and paperback
Available in paperback or eBook

He talks funny; he’s a bubble…  (CRS- Bubble and Squeak; {r/w} Greek.) Bubble and Squeak is a fried dish made with potato and vegetable leftovers.

That fellow’s a bit ginger…  (CRS- Ginger Beer; {r/w} Queer, Gay)

I’m all on my Jack today... (CRS- Jack Jones; {r/w} alone’s, on your own.) Jack Jones was a singer in the 60's.

I’m off round the corner for a Jimmy... (CRS- Jimmy Riddle; {r/w} widdle, pee)

He can't hear you, he's mutton... Technically 3rd degree... (CRS- Mutt & Jeff; {r/w} deaf.) Mutt & Jeff were cartoon characters from the 1940’s.

I’m off down the High Street for a Ruby...  (CRS- Ruby Murray; {r/w} curry) Ruby Murray was a Belfast singer from the 1950’s.

Cops are coming, we’d better scarper... (CRS- Scapa Flow; {r/w} go.) Scapa Flow is a harbor in the Shetland Islands where the WW1 German fleet was scuppered.

I’m on my Tod today... (CRS- Todd Sloane; {r/w} alone, lone.)

He’s wearing his Lionels… (CRS- Lionel Blair; {r/w} flare, flared trousers) Lionel Blair was an actor/singer/dancer in the 60’s 70’s in the UK)

Don't be stupid, use your loaf... (CRS- Loaf of Bread; {r/w} head)

I’m a bit Boracic (Borrassic) this week... (CRS- Boracic Lint; {r/w} skint, broke, penniless) Borassic Lint was a gauze substance put on wounds in the old days.

How’s it going, me old China?... (CRS- China Plate; {r/w} mate, friend)

What a fine pair of Bristols... (CRS- Bristol City; {r/w} titties, breasts) Bristol City is one football team in the English seaside town of Bristol.)

Listen to him spin that Porky... (CRS-Pork Pies; {r/w} lies)

Oh, now that’s a nice whistle.... (CRS- Whistle and Flute: {r/w} suit, three piece suit)

My book The Ridiculously Comprehensive Dictionary of British Slang has over 200 pages of slang definitions, available in paperback or eBook.

Monday, May 9, 2016

SOE: Churchill's Spy School that Spawned All Others

SOE camps in Britain and abroad were the model of all spy-craft for years

Many books have been written regarding this one department, that it almost does not need repeating, and yet, although its influence cannot be calculated, the SOE manages to remain relatively obscure in the minds of most of the world’s population.
The SOE alone did not win the war, but its organization, training camps, instructors, training methods and gadgetry were used in every single theater of the war. Many of Churchill’s ‘Secret Armies’ were trained under SOE jurisdiction, and most of the world’s spy networks modeled on their mold.
Without doubt, the SOE was Churchill’s greatest creation.
An examination of all of Churchill's 'Secret Armies'.

Initially formed to combine all of Britain's fractured Military Intelligence Services, it did far more; it provided a training regime that served not only the allied spies and counter-espionage agents, but all Special Forces too. From its early days in July 1940 until the end of the war in 1945, the SOE schools in Britain and the training techniques they had developed were used on a massive scale. The Commandoes, the SAS, the Paratroopers, SBS, Cichociemni (Polish S.F.), US Rangers, Canadian Devil’s Brigade, Jedburgh’s and many others were trained in the SOE’s 50 plus locations in Britain.
Later coined as "the school for mayhem and murder", the deep-background preparation, the variety of subjects, the attention to detail, and the hardy regime were used as the blueprint of every single spy organization in the modern world today.
When Churchill came to power, at least four different intelligence agencies vied for power, and did not share techniques, information or personnel. It was Churchill alone on his first days in charge who set up the ambiguously titled Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.), and detailed their mission; ‘to set Europe ablaze’. You can see Churchill's footprint from the inception of Britain's structured military intelligence; had been in the cabinet when Britain’s first Military Intelligence agency was set up in 1909. In the landings at Gallipoli in 1915, he had personally witnessed the disaster that could strike the largest of military operations if the intelligence was not accurate or up to date.
When he took charge in 1940, he was determined not to make the same mistake twice; to beat the Nazi menace, Britain’s military intelligence service would have to be the best in the world, and would train and operate to standards far exceeding the expectation of both its founding members and the enemy.
"If you have to search a prisoner, kill him first..."

Of all the allied forces, the USA followed SOE guidelines more than any other. The Office of Strategic Studies (O.S.S.) continued Churchill’s penchant for ambiguous titles, and from its inception, the OSS trained their operatives in the SOE camps in Canada. Within months of entering the war in December 1941 they had begun construction of their own camps in Maryland and Virginia. The largest were at Prince William Forest, near Quantico (near the Marine base and FBI Headquarters) and Catoctin Mountain Park, (now the location of Camp David).
At the close of the war, the OSS went on to become the CIA, and is still active today.
Churchill's Special Operations Executive may not have won the war on its own, but it shortened it by many years, and saved millions of lives.

Take a look inside Churchill's Secret Armies...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Winston Churchill's Ungentlemanly Side



Was principled gentleman Winston Churchill also the master of dirty tactics?

You bet he was!

With his back to the wall in 1940 and invasion from the Nazis imminent, not only did he use every trick in the book… it turns out he "wrote the book"! I've covered it all in my latest release:

 Churchill's Secret Armies War Without Rules: The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Ian Hall

Monday, January 11, 2016

Two Old Farts Writing Science Fiction: Dennis E. Smirl & Ian Hall

Two Old farts writing Science Fiction.... what could possibly go wrong?

Can you remember when real Science Fiction was Asimov’s Foundation, or Herbert’s Dune? When Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers, and Clarke did 2001: A Space Odessy?
Yeah, so can we.
So, fed up with the dark matter of today's SF market, Dennis and I got together to write some of our own. We didn't want to wallow in depression, though, we decided to write some old-fashioned Science Fiction, you know, the stuff with blasters and aliens, rockets and ray-guns, the type of SF from a more buoyant age, stuff that we’d like to read. No more cruel, dark, Dystopia, no more end-of-the-world scenarios, each dimmer and more depressing than the last, and no Zombie apocalypse.
We decided go go back to the good old days of optimism, the eager look to the stars that once kindled longing in our childhood.
It wasn’t quite the dip into the age of Dan Dare, or Flash Gordon, but it was a definite vision into a time where the whole of mankind would rally together in the face of an alien foe, rather than wallow in fear in an age of terrorists and bomb-plots. It was a trip back to the day when the phrase ‘dirty bomb’, just meant one that had been rolled into a muddy puddle. It was a time of rockets to the Moon, then Mars, times when NASA actually launched rockets, not lectured about it.
Book 2... Things are heating up for poor Seth

Dennis and I began with a universe containing a small human federation of planets; the Fellowship. Then we gave everybody a corporate entity to universally hate; BIG SPACE.
The MacCollie Company owned space travel, having invented both drives to take us to the stars. They allotted franchises, they literally controlled the very nuts and bolts of getting out to the stars. It gave us a good feeling to give the humans an enemy of sorts, but then again, things change bloody quick up there.
3... Seth has a new crew mate... a woman!

So, to our story… the STAR-EATER CHRONICLES. MacCollie (with their new FTL drive) have sent 1000 Survey-Scouts to the edges of the galaxy to map it for mankind… well for MacCollie to collate the findings and sell it to mankind.
Seth Gingko is one of those Scouts. When he reaches the edge of the galaxy, his contract is over, as payment for his five year mission (yes, it was a five year mission, Star Trek fans, an homage, we did it on purpose) he takes ownership of his one man Scout ship.
But being an owner-operator was never going to be easy. Seth discovers an invading fleet, and must warn Earth of the impending doom.
4. More aliens than you could count!

Thus begins volume one in the STAR-EATER CHRONICLES, A Galaxy Too Far; Seth’s first solo adventure. We’ve worked so hard, we've finished book 9!, And we’ve raced right into book ten. We’ve put them on Amazon kindle, on Nook, iTunes, Kobo and in paperback.
It proves to be a great ride, but you better hold on to the safety bars, ‘cos it’s about to get real bumpy out there… real quick… and don't expect us to be "Politically Correct" about it.
And that's on of the good things about being... just Two Old Farts....

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The SOE Counter Espionage Manual... How it Won World War 2

The 1943 SOE Manual; Available in Kindle and Paperback format

When we think of spies, we conjure images of Ian Fleming's James Bond, the suave 007, the ladies-man, licensed to kill.
But truth is always darker than fiction.

Around the town of Dunkirk in May 1940, the British Army had abandoned most of its tanks and artillery. As the men were transported home, Britain was truly at the‘darkest hour’ of World War 2. The newly appointed Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had a lot to do, and very little time or money to do it with.

Churchill poured every resource into the RAF, for if Hitler wanted to invade Britain, he would need control of the skies. But Churchill had many other plans, hatched in those ‘dark hours’… plans for small units that would survive Britain's defeat; the Commandoes, Long Range Desert Group, British Resistance (GHQ), and the cream of the crop; the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Formed from three separate military intelligence entities, the SOE would be solely responsible for counter-espionage, and behind-the-lines projects. Back then, many thought Britain itself would soon be under German control, and Churchill prepared against it. By the end of 1941, the SOE had a program of Special Training Schools, both in the Home Counties (near London) and in the depth of darkest Scotland, training agents for covert operations.

A manual was written, over 400 pages of studiously crafted courses in espionage, propaganda, cell making, demolition, and many more. Wrap those up with in-depth instruction on close combat, arms training, parachuting, fitness, and Morse code, and you have a ready supply of agents ready for action. But this was no Geneva Convention led syllabus. Agents were taught to shoot first, and ask questions later. One section in the manual, on searching prisoners, has the following advice… 


“Searching a Prisoner, if you are armed.... Kill him first. If that is inconvenient, make him lie face to the ground, hands out in front of him. Knock him out, with rifle butt, side or butt of the pistol or with your boot. Then search him."

That’s not exactly like the instruction at boot camp in the regular army. This was preparation for a dirty war, one run by knives in the throat and jackbooted Gestapo interrogations. The gloves were off, and both sides knew it. Nearly 7000 men and women graduated from the ‘schools’ in Britain, but the manual did not stop there. In the event of Britain falling to the Nazis, camps were set up in Palestine, Singapore and Canada. The newly formed OSS (soon to be the CIA) took the British manual and trained their own agents. Soon the SOE-trained agents were operating all over the world.

There are many stories of bravery in the SOE annals, and many thousands of men and women did not come back from their missions abroad. Their biggest day was D-Day, May, 1944. On the night before the invasion, over 1000 different operations were put into place behind enemy lines in occupied France; roads blocked, officers assassinated, railway bridges blown up, communication lines fouled, locomotives put out of action; of the 1000 operations, over 950 were successful, meaning the invasion of France could continue.

In 1940, Churchill told the SOE to “set Europe ablaze”, and they didn’t do a bad job of it.
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