CVHF 2023: Day 3

Wednesday was a day of Hollands.
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CVHF 2023: Day 3

The V-Bombers – Norman Bonner & Ed Jarron with James Holland

Britain And The Nuclear Threat – Julie McDowall

The Pacific War 1941-45Saul David & Michael Neiberg

The Wolf-Girl, The Greeks And The Gods: A Tale Of The Persian Wars – Tom Holland

Pax: War And Peace In Rome’s Golden Age – Tom Holland

Don McCullin: Journeys Across Roman Asia Minor – Don McCullin with Barnaby Rogerson

The Holland brothers rule Chalke Valley, and both their stars have risen in the past couple of years thanks to their excellent podcasts, The Rest is History and We Have Ways of Making You Talk. Wednesday was a day of Hollands.


James Holland kicked off ‘Cold War Morning’ interviewing two former V-force pilots.  The V-force – Valiant, Victor and Vulcan bombers – was Britain’s strategic nuclear strike force in the 50s and 60s.

As 17-yrs old trainee pilots Norman Bonner & Ed Jarron learned to fly before they learned to drive, and soon found themselves manning the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert), stood by and ready to scramble within two minutes, (contributing greatly to the V-Force’s credibility as a major part of the West’s nuclear deterrent.)

These were “big powerful jets with real nuclear bombs” and as young pilots they of course had to come to terms with the potential consequences of their actions.  Both pilots agreed that the logic of deterrence more than justified what they were doing and “once you’d reconciled what you’re there for, the rest was great fun”.


Julie McDowall has written an account of how the UK made plans for the possibility of nuclear war, and how the public was prepared in Attack Warning Red.

Dark humour seems never far away, thanks to the more bizarre plans.  The NHS was primed to launch raiding parties on supermarkets in the event of nuclear war to acquire supplies, and herbal medicines such as tree bark were to be scavenged when conventional drugs ran out.

As a child McDowall was allowed to watch Threads, a harrowing 80s TV drama about the outbreak of nuclear war in Sheffield.  Watching Threads today (on YouTube) is a grim reminder of the nuclear anxiety that pervaded 80’s Britain.  The psychological impact on McDowall was profound, not only did it inspire her academic career on the topic but it induced a breakdown, making it “hard to be happy and carefree.”

Asked why there had been no public information broadcasts in past 18 months, unlike some of the famous campaigns of previous generations (Protect and Survive), she suggested today’s government may fear ridicule, and may also recognise the risk of signalling provocation to Russia.

Devil Dogs

Heading east to the Pacific theatre in World War 2, Saul David and Michael Neiberg, US Army War College lecturer, zoomed in from the big picture to the local.

Neiberg tackled China’s mindset, experience and historical narrative of WW2 followed by Saul David’s galloping story of a US Marines Corps company fighting from island to island in the Pacific.

There’s no doubt that the Asian theatre is much neglected in schools and history curricula, and that China’s mindset is worth reflecting on.  The Chinese regard World War Two very differently to the West, it was a ‘long war’ lasting from 1894 to 1953, and whilst a victory for them, was also a source of great suffering, for which sense of a grievance persists to this day.

Wolf Girl

Tom Holland needed a device to get his daughter interested in Greek mythology and history  “so my daughter would not complain as we climbed up another pile of rocks” so he put ten-year-old Gorgo of Sparta at the centre of events in Ancient Greece in the same way that Forest Gump and Flashman popped up in multiple well known historical episodes.

The result is The Wolf-Girl, The Greeks And The Gods a beautifully illustrated and printed children’s book which will thrill young readers and old.

Holland is a witty, lively storyteller, blending myth and history, and a cast of gods, heroes, boys and girls.  Some good questions from the girls in the audience from nearby Hanford school at the front, as well as the grandparents making up the rest of the audience

Tits Up

More Tom Holland with Pax: War And Peace In Rome’s Golden Age.  This is his follow-up to Rubicon and Dynasty, and follows the emperors Nero (popular at the time), Vitellius (a fatty with a fondness for pies), Vespasian, Hadrian and Trajan.

This was Rome at the height of her power and the period covers the eruption of Vesuvius and destruction of Pompei, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the opening of the Colosseum –  the home of gladiatorial combat “a cross between snuff movie and Cirque du Soleil.”  “It’s unsettling to think people enjoy watching brutal bloodbaths especially if they feel it’s morally sanctioned.”

Venison and Afrodisias

A supper of venison and ice cold rose in the Trethowans dining tent provided good fortification before Barnaby Rogerson and local legend Don McCullin described their tour of classical archaeological sites around the Med.  The pics were superb, and the trip sounded worth emulating, not least Afrodisias in modern day Turkey, where the brilliant Bert Smith of Oxford University currently leads excavations.

There was a scramble at the end of the talk as punters sprinted to the bookshop to grab copies of McCullin’s £95 book, which must weigh several kilos and would definitely not fit into your pocket.

Justin Doherty is Editor at Large for Aspects of History. Head to the CVHF site here.