Category Archives: World War 2

A story of a book

Here’s where this started:

Oxfam Books in York’s Petergate has just received a going-over, and is in the state of fresh-paint-smell that royals must think is the usual when visiting the wider world.

Michael Joseph put this one out in 1941. The cover shows mottling. The paper is a bit on the war-time crude side, but shows little sign of ‘foxing’. I could replace the falling-apart paper-back copy that has followed my house-removals over the years; except, when I look up, I find I must have discarded that one a while ago.

By 1941 Forester already had the first three Hornblower novels behind him — which made it a full score of previously published works. He was among the pantheon of fictionists. In a way, then, The Captain from Connecticut, is almost a pot-boiler.

Enter spooks

From 1941, the British Information Service at Rockefeller Plaza, NYC, was a branch of the British Consulate, and at root a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Foreign Office. Its business wasn’t quite disinformation: such would be crude propaganda. The aim was ‘nudging’ American opinion in Britain’s favour.

At first, the output was high-minded: T.S.Eliot was induced to maunder on at length, generating Defence of the Islands.

Jan Stuther had been writing Mrs Miniver for the London Times since 1937 — the life and times of a upper middle-class lady in a period of turmoil. The column evolved into a 1940 novel (about the Miniver family in the opening months of the War). The novel went into the New York Times best-sellers list, and was snapped up for William Wylder’s 1942 movie, which was saved from sentimental mawkishness by Greer Garson as the title character.

More soft-soap from Helen MacInnes and Above Suspicion. It is 1939: an Oxford academic and his wife are off for a continental holiday. They are induced by British intelligence to carry messages to an anti-Nazi agent. The couple are then pursued across Europe by the evil enemy. The sub-text is Helen MacInnes was also Mrs Highet. Gilbert Highet taught at Columbia University, and was extremely close to MI6.

Forester

Also on the plantation was CS Forester. He had come to America when Warner Bros. had commissioned him to turn Hornblower into a screen-play. At the outbreak of War, Forester left California for home to ‘do his bit’ — to be told by the Ministry of Information to get back again.

Forester was also a newspaperman, immensely bumptious over his reporting as a London Times correspondent on the Spanish Civil War, and on the take-over of Czechoslovakia. This gave Forester an ‘in’ to the American magazine market, for which he churned out a steady out-pouring of uplifting pieces.

That is where we should place The Captain from Connecticut. Anyone who reads it (as I am re-reading) would instantly spot the overlaps with The Happy Return, a.k.a. Beat to Quarters, the third (published 1937) of the original Hornblower sequence. Hornblower had his Lady Barbara Wellesley; Josiah Peabody has his exotic Mlle. Anne de Breuil.

Only connect

Roald Dahl’s active service ended in crashing his Hurricane in the Western Desert (the autobiographic account in Going Solo should not be trusted further than it can be thrown). He was posted to the Air Mission in Washington,  we can presume as a come-on for the ladies of the diplomatic circuit.

Three days after his arrival, still not sure what he was meant to be doing, Dahl found Forester on the other side of his desk. Forester wanted Dahl’s account of the crash, as raw material for another article. The two adjourned for an extended lunch at a restaurant near the Mayflower Hotel. Somehow Forester didn’t get the material he needed, and Dahl lost track. Dahl apologised for his vagueness, and offered to send some notes later.

What Dahl turned out was a complete account of a heroic crash, totally fictionalised, which he had the Embassy type up under the title A Piece of Cake. This he sent off to Forester. Forester forwarded the piece to his literary agent, Harold Matson. Matson  submitted it to The Saturday Evening Post. The Post liked it, to the tune of $1,000 (from which Matson deducted his easily-earned 10%). The Post then changed the RAF slang title to the more prosaic Shot Down over Libya, and Dahl’s first published work appeared anonymously.

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Holocaust Memorial Day, revisited

From Nikolaus Wachsmann: KL, A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps:

Which is part of the story. There’s also the broader view in Timothy Snyder: Bloodlands

Fourteen million is the approximate number of people killed by purposeful policies of mass murder implemented by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the bloodlands. I define the bloodlands as territories subject to both German and Soviet police power and associated mass killing polices at some point between 1933 and 1945. They correspond closely to the places were the Germans killed Jews between 1941 and 1945. In the east, more or less of Soviet Russia might have been included; but the existing line allows the consideration of the main German killing sites of the war as well as the western Soviet lands disproportionately struck by earlier Soviet terror. Though I discuss the western lands of today’s Poland, which belonged until 1945 to Germany, I do not include them in the bloodlands. This is to respect the difference between mass killing and ethnic cleansing. Hungary might arguably have been included, since it was occupied briefly by the Germans late in the war, after years as a German ally, and then occupied by the Soviets. After Polish and Soviet Jews, Hungarian Jews were the third-largest group of victims of the Holocaust. Romania, too, would have a kind of claim to belong to the bloodlands, since many of its Jews were killed and the country was occupied at the end of the war by the Soviet Union. Romania, however, was also a German ally rather than a victim of German aggression, and the murder of Romanian Jews was a Romanian rather than a German policy; this is a related but different history. Yugoslav citizens suffered many of the fates described here, including the Holocaust and mass reprisals; but the Jewish population of Yugoslavia was very small, and Yugoslavia was not occupied by the Soviet Union.
These matters of political geography are debatable on the margin; what is not is the existence of a zone in Europe where Soviet and German power overlapped and where the tremendous majority of the deliberate killing of both regimes took place. It is indisputable, to state the point differently, that the contiguous area from central Poland to western Russia where Germans killed Jews covers the regions where all of the other major German and Soviet policies of mass killing had already taken place or were concurrently taking place—if not completely, then in very significant part. The purposeful starvation of Ukraine took place within the zone of the Holocaust. The purposeful starvation of Soviet prisoners of war took place within the zone of the Holocaust. Most Soviet and German shootings of Polish elites took place within the zone of the Holocaust. Most German “reprisal actions” took place within the zone of the Holocaust. A disproportionate amount of the shooting of the Stalinist Great Terror took place within the zone of the Holocaust.
I use the term Molotov-Ribbentrop line to signify an important boundary running north to south through the bloodlands. This line (which appears on some of the maps) is the German-Soviet border as agreed in September 1939 after the joint invasion of Poland. It was significant for Polish citizens, since it marked the division between German and Soviet occupation policies. This line took on another meaning after the Germans betrayed their allies and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. To its west, Germans were holding Jews in ghettos; to its east, Germans began to shoot Jews in very large numbers. The Holocaust began east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line with shooting actions, and then shifted west of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, where most victims were gassed.

 

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“Casablanca”, Hollywood Theater, NYC, 26th November 1942

Was ever less than a million spent so successfully on any movie?

I cannot recall (so would welcome the nudge) who originated the one about war-time propaganda — “Thank goodness Mickey Mouse was on our side!” — but I equally cannot doubt the power of Casablanca. Beside a VHS tape (that’s never going to get another run) and a birthday prezzie DVD, I have here Richard J.Anobile’s illustrated script — looks that my £1.50 investment (reduced from £1.99!) hasn’t lost too much on the second-hand market.

Casablanca was one of many war-time movies that fell foul of Irish censorship during “The Emergency” (© E. de Valera). Even after, thanks to some extensive “cuts” in the interests of moral welfare, Irish audiences were not allowed to know “Rick” and “Ilsa” had history and “Paris”.

US Censorship

The Production Code, better known as the Hayes Code, dates from 1930. More observed in the word than the deed, it pledged:

No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

Similarly, from 1934, the Catholic Legion of Decency had as many as ten million Roman Catholics signed up

to refrain from viewing all objectionable movies or attending any theater that showed such films.

Yet in Casablanca we enjoy a whole mess of amoralities. When the politics get in the way of morals, film the politics?

At the moment of Pearl Harbor, the United States had neither an “official” intelligence service nor a propaganda arm. In both, that makes the US government unique among major powers, and — arguably — too honest for its own good.

What the US did have was William “Wild Bill” Donovan, already in-and-out of FDR’s office, officially (w.e.f. July 1941) “Co-ordinator of Information”, and from early 1942 head of OSS. That sorted the intelligence arm, but — in the context of this post — that’s another story (and a good one).

Twelve days after Pearl Harbor, Congress passed the War Powers Act. This allowed FDR to sign  EO8985 (as if anyone was going to stop him) and set up the Office of Censorship. Byron Price of AP was nominated as Director of Censorship: the intention,  underlined by that appointment, was “light-touch”

The Office of Censorship was essentially “negative”, attempting to prevent breaches of security, enforcing scrutiny of communications, mail and cables. In all truth, US media had been largely applying voluntary censorship since the outbreak of hostilities in Europe — for an obvious example, Canadian troop movements were not reported.

It was not until 13th June 1942 that something “positive” emerged: the Office of War Information, actively “selling” patriotism and propaganda:

to formulate and carry out, through the use of press, radio, motion picture, and other facilities, information programs designed to facilitate the development of an informed and intelligent understanding, at home and abroad, of the status and progress of the war effort, and of the war policies, activities, and aims of the government.

Its Director was Elmer Davis. By the very nature of the First Amendment the OWI had a fraught relationship with the media and the public.

Seeing what/ the man will do/ unbribed, there’s /no occasion to

Humbert Wolfe, famously, on the nature of the unbribable “British journalist”.

Similarly Hollywood didn’t need to be obliged to crank up war propaganda. The studio moguls knew and still know their audience.

Casablanca originated with Murray Burnett’s and his lady-friend Joan Alison’s unproduced play-script, Everybody Comes to Rick’s. About all that survived of that was the notion of a  cynical American bar-owner, a former embittered and adulterous lawyer, in Casablanca, who has a reunion with a former inamorata, and who facilitates her escape, with her anti-Nazi current squeeze. Oh — and the undeveloped character of Victor Laszlo.

Burnett’s script — it had already been rejected by MGM — arrived at Warner Brothers the day after Pearl Harbor, and was passed to Stephen Karnot for appraisal:

Excellent melodrama. Colorful, timely background, tense mood, suspense, psychological and physical conflict, tight plotting, sophisticated hokum. A boxoffice natural for Bogart, or Cagney, or Raft in out-of-the-usual roles, and perhaps Mary Astor.

The play-script had only got so far because of the advocacy of Irene Lee, who had come across it in New York, and ran the story department at Warners.

On 27th December, with (Jack Warner’s 2 i/c) Hal Wallis’s OK, Lee paid $20,000 for the rights. Wallis was ambitious, and tired of being Warner’s gofer. On 12th January 1942 he became Hal Wallis Productions, with a contract for four films a year and 10% of the profits.

Development

A significant part of this was the availability of actors.

On the insistence of director Michael Curtiz, Bogart was cast in mid-February (over a certain Ronald Reagan — which must have changed history), even before there was anything like a developed film-script. Bogart had just completed The Big Shot, and was about to start Across the Pacific. He was allowed a fortnight break between that and Casablanca.

As the script developed, so the Epsteins changed “Lois Meredith” of Everybody Comes to Rick’s into the European “Ilsa”. Ingrid Bergman was available from the Selznick stable. Paramount — it seemed at that moment — had passed her over for the “Maria” part in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Her husband was a medical student in New York; and at $25,000 she came cheaper than any competition (Michèle Morgan‘s agent was demanding $55,000). Another contender had been Ann Sheridan, mainly qualified for filling a sweater.

The next key ingredient was Howard Koch added to “polish” and improve the Epsteins’ script. While this was the norm in the Warner assembly line, it means that the script became more spare, less earnest and more “political”.

Production

At 9 am on 25th May 1942 Bogart and Bergman were on Stage 12A to do the flash-back to Paris. The last shoot was 3rd August — though four days later Bogart was recalled to record the last line of the alternate ending.

Lou Macelle, an announcer for a local radio station, was brought in to do the heavy voice-over intro. Don Siegel (who would have to linger until 1946 before he became a certified director) was told to create the spinning globe and the montage of refugees. The rough cut went to the Production Code Administration for approval — who loved it. At that point, Casablanca became a “major production” a bit more so than the usual hype.

Selling the thing

Considering where I started this post, around now is when it becomes interesting.

The 26th November 1942 showing was opportunist.

Operation Torch — the North African landings — launched on 8th November 1942. The coincidence was too good to miss.

The film didn’t get a national release until January 1943 — and even that was an advance on the schedule of the Spring. The publicists were not just selling the movie — as with any movie — they were selling the War. War bonds were sold by, and on the fame of Hollywood stars — along with fund-raisers for the Red Cross, War relief, the USO. Female stars had to be depicted doing their own housework. Cinemas were bases for recycling collections of metal, rubber, fats and fabrics.

There was a pay-back: as Hollywood stars were morale-boosters, they (and key production staff) were dissuaded from enlisting — though, technically, these were “deferments”. Darryl Zanuck went so far as to lobby for the film industry to be classified as “war-work”. The Screen Actors Guild, on the other hand,

believes actors and everyone else in the motion picture industry should be subject to the same rules as the rest of the country.

An intriguing collision between the need for “lustre” and self-regard?

Some “got away”. Clark Gable (#3 earner in the entire movie industry for 1941) enlisted as a private in the Air Corps — and inevitably graduated from Officer School — to serve as a gunner in the UK (but, equipped with an aerial camera, did five bombing raids). John Ford, making Across the Pacific, had a scene with Bogart tied to a chair, with Japanese guards at every window and door, then walked off the set to join the Signal Corps (Vincent Sherman, as Ford’s underling, had to untie the dramatic knot).

And so on, and so forth …

Leaving the small matter of Burnett and Alison’s 1941 copyright on Everybody Comes to Rick’s.

In 1987 they gave notice to Warner Brothers that they would be ending the arrangement when the copyright was due for renewal. That would have rendered the characters free for whatever purpose Burnett might wish. Warners went into panic mode: $100,000 “refreshers” each to Burnett and Alison, and the underwriting of a stage production of the original play. It opened at  London’s Whitehall Theatre in April 1991, and closed, with scornful reviews, six weeks later.

Proving, perhaps, it is possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

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Stamping one’s place in the world

That previous posting would be incomplete without the coda. It isn’t just in newsprint that we find the curious ephemera of history.

There’s that fly-speck (one of many) on the map that is the Italian enclave of Campione, entirely surrounded by Switzerland and hunched up on the eastern side of Lake Lugano:

campione-d-italia-12

How it got there, and how it remains there is explained succinctly by wikipedia:

When Ticino chose to become part of the Swiss Confederation in 1798, the people of Campione chose to remain part of Lombardy. In 1800, Ticino proposed exchanging Indemini for Campione. In 1814 a referendum was held, but the residents of Campione were against it. In 1848, during the wars of Italian unification, Campione petitioned Switzerland for annexation, but this was rejected due to the Swiss desire to maintain neutrality.

After Italian unification in 1861, all land west of Lake Lugano and half of the lake were given to Switzerland so that Swiss trade and transport would not have to pass through Italy. The d’Italia was added to the name of Campione in the 1930s by Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and an ornamental gate to the city was built, both in an attempt to assert the exclave’s Italian-ness.

It’s that “Italian-ness” that intrigues me:

  • The commune seems to operate happily with two currencies: the Swiss franc and the Euro (and, however one pays, the change comes in whichever is less-flavour-of-the-month — i.e. almost inevitably, in Euros).
  • On the other hand, there is no VAT. But then Campione does very nicely, thank you, from the “sin tax” of its huge casino, well patronised by the Luganesi (where may be found other “attractions” — a decade ago, the “colourful” son of the last King of Italy was arrested, procuring prostitutes for the casino’s patrons).
  • Swiss customs regulations seem to apply.
  • All vehicles seem to be registered in Switzerland, and bear Swiss plates.
  • The police are the Italian Carabinieri, but the emergency services — fire and ambulance — seem to be Swiss.
  • There’s a curiosity in telephone dialling: one has to use the international +41 prefix code for Switzerland, followed by the regional 91 code for Ticino.

But this post was meant to focus on historical ephemera

Which brings me to the curious history of Campione during the Second World War.

It all went pera-shaped when the Mussolini régime collapsed in the late summer of 1943. On 8th September 1943, with the Armistice of Cassibile, the “official” Italian Bagdolio government was now with the Western Allies. The Nazis rushed in with Fall Achse, and in ten days had 0ccupied the whole of northern and central Italy.

Leaving Campione in a bit of bind.

The Nazis were clearly unable to occupy the fly-speck, with no wish to aggravate neutral Switzerland (and the Commune of Ticino) by doing so. Similarly, the Swiss had to balance neutrality with the way the political wind was plainly shifting. So a discreet game of footsie went on: the OSS moved a discreet operation into Campione — I’m assuming as a branch office of Alan Dulles at Herrengasse 23, in Bern. In true Dulles fashion, the OSS kept a low profile in Campione while the Swiss chose not to notice: there’s scope here for the likes of Alan Furst to produce a fiction (and may well already have done so),

By 1944 the Campione post office was running out of stamps. For international mail (and in view of the currently-ambiguous situation of Italy) it was necessary to shufty up the road a bit and post by courtesy of the Swiss PTT. For the local stuff, a bit of national pride was involved: Campione began to issue its own stamps, designated in Swiss francs, valid for mail across Switzerland and Liechtenstein, but not acceptable to the international UPU. Added to which, Campione is quite small; and the Campionesi didn’t have much business with that wider world. So, if you’ve got any of these, they are very collectable:

stamps

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Northern snobbery

From Redfellow Cott to the magnificent Beningborough Hall is half-a-dozen miles, three hundred years of history, and an infinite number of social classes.

BeningboroughAbout 1716, and a fine place to be on a Bank Holiday.

So having wandered the grounds (my Fitbit scored 2.53 miles), observed the munching Aberdeen Anguses (Mac spell-check tried to edit the “g”, thus nearly managing a wrong’un there), and educated the grandsons in the nature of a ha-ha, we were into the accommodation.

What it isn’t, strictly, is a “stately home”. In one of those we might expect the family’s second-best crockery laid out on banqueting tables to impress the yobs. Beningborough has been cleaned out repeatedly, and the furnishings — though adequate — are more about filling space than flaunting hereditary opulence.

The last of the Great Personages to inhabit this glorious monster was Enid Edith Scudamore-Stanhope:

Whose full-length portrait hangs properly over one of those grand fireplaces, which require half-a-tree or the labour of a small pit-village. Lo! Enid Wilson, just into her twenties, and about to be married to a nob/knob twice her age and become Countess of Chesterfield.

By then a widow, she moved into a farm cottage in 1941. The Hall became an Air Force billet for the bomber crews at nearby Linton-on-Ouse, from which it was redeemed by the National Trust. Since Countess Enid, the RAF’s and RCAF’s land-lady, a grand-niece of the Iron Duke, was still in the vicinity, keeping a shrewd eye on the doings, life must have been less-than-easy for the CO of 76 Squadron, deputed as liaison officer and peace-keeper, one Squadron Leader Leonard Cheshire.

Beningborough is now a regular out-house for the National Portrait Gallery. At one level, this means the walls are well-hung with decent oils of various worthies of the eighteenth, and into the nineteenth century. I even hit on a John Singer Sargent. Two items gave me particular pleasure:

At the top of the stairs, on the second floor, as introduction to the peripatetic NPG bit is Henry IX, the Cardinal King of Britain, the last of the Stuarts (and probably as near total sanity as that lot came):

No eight-year-old should be dressed that way; and he’s pointing to the White Cliffs of Dover, where he’ll never get (though George III paid him a pension when the Stuart monies ran out). The importance of the strange dog eludes me.

Then, in the galleries, a breath of modern fresh-air: Tom Wood’s beguiling portrait of a Yorkshire and National hero, Alan Bennett:

Now the viewer needs to explain the impedimenta: the mug, the paper bag, the plug-and-cable, even the glow in the background. Awareness of Bennett’s work solves the mysteries.

Definitely  a day not wasted.

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Labour Conference, 1945

There are evocative images of Major Denis Healey, Royal Engineers, beach master at Anzio, in uniform at the Labour Conference of 1945.

I hope they are trotted out in his obituaries.

_74401581_healey_composite

Yes, that’s Captain Roy Jenkins. Two giants for the price of one.

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V for victory for a fine journalist

The first rough draft of history

That journalist’s credo has more than a bit of history in itself: for the truly dedicated, it is detailed by wikiquote. My favourite is by George Helgesen Fitch (another decent lefty), and from 1914, in the Lincoln [Nebraska] Daily Star:

A reporter is a young man who blocks out the first draft of history each day on a rheumatic typewriter.

He could be describing the old Irish Times newsroom, up the stairs, just off D’Olier Street, and convenient for the Palace Bar in Fleet Street.

Which brings me to 8th May 1945:

IT 8 May1945

Dramatis personae

Every good story needs an antagonist, against whom the protagonist contends. I’m going to make R.M. “Bertie” Smyllie, for twenty years the editor of the Irish Times, my protagonist hero here. So for the hissable villain of the piece I need a conflation of Joseph Walshe (de Valera’s reliable go-fer at External Affairs), Thomas Coyne (a big-wig in the Department of Justice, licensed to implement wartime censorship) and Michael Knightly (chief press censor).

Walshe was a man on a mission — not just to serve assiduously his political master — to elevate Ireland as the Christian state that would take a very real part in bringing about a cessation of hostilities. The idea was to mobilise the other small European states, and the Vatican in particular. Good stuff, Joe! (provided we overlook that meant cuddling up to Pius XII Pacelli, Salazar’s Portugal and even Franco’s Spain).

Of course, Ireland had a head-start in censorship: The Irish Press was the Fianna Fáil party organ (proprietor: de Valera and family); Radio Éireann was a state monopoly; 1,700 books had been banned in the previous decade; films and newsreels were cut (or totally banned), seemingly at whim; in short order, 200 censors (all hand-culled) were working in Exchequer Street to scrutinise personal mail. Walshe could use all this, and wanted more, to promote his neutralism:

Public opinion must be built up on a neutral basis, a neutral-mindedness must be created. A list of the states which are neutral should be frequently and prominently displayed in the Press. The advantages of being neutral should be stressed. The losses and sufferings of all kinds, including famine and poverty, which come upon countries at was should be expressed.

Walshe’s remit was wide, but he demanded more. His particular bête noire was The Irish Times, which featured strongly in his report to de Valera:

The greatest danger, in my opinion, to our neutrality, and conceivably to our continued existence as a State, is the subtle propaganda of an ascendance clique which will undoubtedly use this occasion to promote their dearest wish which is to bring the British back. When a certain paper says, for instance, that the irishmen who joined the British Army in 1914 were the real Irish patriots and the cream of our people, it is essentially a principle completely opposed to the continued existence of an Irish State. Such views should be ruthlessly suppressed.

[Both Walshe quotes are taken from Brian Girvin, The Emergency, pages 85-6]

Our protagonist

“Bertie” Smyllie had evolved the Irish Times from being the mouthpiece of imperial Dublin Castle into a true, small-l liberal paper of record (to the angst of many Colonel O’Blimps), and one with an international perspective unique in Irish journalism. That had to stop, and Michael Knightly was the man for the task.

Smyllie and Knightly waged a day-by-day, hand-to-hand from September 1939 to the following January. Only then, under threat of infinite suspension, did Smyllie concede. After that all matter had to be pre-submitted to Knightly’s office. Apart from the crackles and pops of BBC transmissions, Ireland had become a one-voice media operation. Already, when the Farmers Federation went on a dairy-products strike, it was kept out of the papers for three days (Dubliners knew the cause: that came down the supply chain very effectively) — and the Offences against the State Act was invoked.

Beware the fury of a patient man, wrote John Dryden. Smyllie’s revenge came at D’Olier Street, late Monday evening, 7th May, 1945. Peter Murtagh tells it like this:

… a framed original of Smyllie’s famous VE Day front page from May 8th, 1945. At the time, the newspaper was subject to government censorship, the blue pencil scoring out any hint of partisanship. But with the censor gone home for the night, Smyllie tore up the approved front page and remade one that included seven small photographs – showing King George, President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, General Eisenhower, and Field Marshals Alexander and Montgomery – arranged in a giant V (for victory) shape across the page.

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