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Archive for the ‘Robin Ellis’ Category

I wrote this “haiku” a couple of years ago:

Two Yank commandos 

Machined gunned from a sidecar

‘Mort pour Liberté’

Robert Spaur and Bernard Gautier were members of a fifteen-strong American commando unit parachuted into the south Tarn on the night of the 6th of August 1944, as part of an allied plan to disrupt supply lines in southern France prior to D-Day in the South–scheduled for the 15th August.

On patrol, a couple of days after the drop, the group spotted a Nazi motorbike unit heading up from Mazamet towards the small village of Le Rialet to investigate an attack by local maquis–that had succeeded in killing a cow and injuring a German soldier.

The  commandos decided to ambush the unit on its way down.

The plan went awry and in the skirmish two Americans, the oldest (Gautier 33) and youngest (Spaur 19), were shot and killed.

The story of the ambush on the back of the memorial at the spot where it happened

“Can you imagine the disbelief of a Nazi patrol driving up the narrow road from Mazamet towards Le Rialet in August 1944 when they see young men in American uniforms come out of the woods to attack them,” Meredith said, as we headed up the road to the annual commemoration ceremony on Saturday.

“D-Day had happened on June 6th in Normandy and the allies were still stuck there. The Germans must have thought–‘what on earth are American soldiers doing–so far south?’.”

The element of surprise might have given the OSS commandos (Office of Strategic Services–forerunner of the CIA) an added advantage as they attacked the German column–that split-second that counts.

Meredith was scheduled to carry the Stars and Stripes at the ceremony to mark the 74th anniversary.

She is the flag carrier (Porte Drapeau) at annual commemoration ceremonies in Castres and a few years ago was asked to attend this event in Le Rialet.

We learned the remarkable story of the commando unit’s existence from Gilbert Brial–whom we met at one of the commemorations.

Gilbert Brial with Thierry Pauthe–in the uniform of a GI.

Gilbert was 18 in August 1944 and a member of Corps Franc du Sidobre–one of several Maquis groups operating in this mountainous region of the Tarn.

The number of surviving ancien combatants has dwindled over the years Meredith has been attending the ceremonies.

Gilbert is 92 now and ailing, but has been an active campaigner to keep the story alive.

The French expression le devoir de mémoire–the duty to remember–perfectly describes Gilbert’s attitude.

Meredith had assumed the story was well known and that Gilbert must have told it to the media many times.

“Jamais!” [Never!] Gilbert said.

Intrigued and moved, she pursued the story and with the help of the American consul at the time, obtained a Fulbright grant, enabling her to record a series of on camera interviews with most of the surviving members of the Maquis–French rural Resistance fighters.

She was hoping to make a documentary of the story.

Sadly none of the American OSS commandos were still alive, though she made contact with some of their families and several have visited the Tarn.

The OSS team’s code name was PAT.

Read her full account of the remarkable Fourteen days in August 1944, when the surviving members of the commando unit succeeded in preventing local occupation forces from rushing troops and guns to Provence, where the southern D-Day was launched on a beach near St. Tropez.

They also helped liberate our local town, Castres, from Nazi occupation.

Next year is the 75th anniversary and Meredith is hoping for a large turn-out.

At the war memorial, Monsieur Yvan Cros, one of the few maquisards still alive, laid a wreath in memory of his comrades.

M.Cros with La Porte Drapeau Americaine

As the names on the memorial are read out, each is remembered with the spoken words–Mort pour la France for the French and Mort pour La Liberté for Robert Spaur and Bernard Gautier.


It touches the heart.

 

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I am sitting in the courtyard and two turtle doves are–well–courting–in morse code.

It is perfectly still with a suggestion of a spring breeze–quite sharp.

Ne’er cast a clout ’til May be out…

DOT DOT DOT (OVERHEAD)Dot dot dot (is the answer a little futher off).

Now the dots are fading–a meeting perhaps, behind the church!

I’ve been waiting for the “cuckoo morse”–longer and softer as a call.

At last–yesterday afternoon–there it was–a brief, but unmistakeable COO-coooo.

A sign that things are moving on.

There are others.

Our neighbor–farmer Pierre, passed earlier on his tractor.

He’s been busy.

Some of his fields are showing garlic, looking proud–about six weeks to harvest.

Others are pale green with wheat and barley–shifting in the breeze.

Into this patchwork of greens and looking out of place are empty fields of brown–finely tilled–waiting to show….

My guess is sunflowers.

Last week the markets were struggling to offer anything new–but today, it changed.

Small artichokes tightly packed and bunched in fours, peas and broad beans have joined the upstanding green and white asparagus.

It is a relief to see some action.

Dill, tarragon and chives joining the parsley this week and large spring onions.

I have been busy too; making Vignarole–a vegetarian spring speciality in Roman trattorias.

The same artichokes, peas, broad beans and spring onions with a shredded lettuce.

The preparation is labour intensive–but the cooking is the simplest imaginable.

The eating as I remember is sublime.

We’ll see if it gets the DING from Meredith ce soir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer shot of Castres market

Our parking fairy is feeling generous this morning.

I am handed poll position–a hop and a skip from the fountain at the interesting end of Castres Market–to start my marketing.

The vent d’autan is strong–this is the warm wind from the east that can drive you mad when it lasts for days.

The stalls look strangely impermanent without their parasoles and the stallholders, embattled–showing a dogged determination to be of good cheer.

In fact the shoppers are compliant–keen not to robbed of the chance to celebrate a good week or put a less good one behind you with friends at one of the five cafés surrounding Place Jean Jaures.

It is 10:15am and the market has been up and running since 7am.

In the summer I’m here by 7:30 to grab the choicest tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and other summer delights brought in by local growers and picked just the night before.

I’m slower at the moment–finding it hard to get motivated when the changing season–winter to spring–is not showing on the vegetable stands.

A couple of sparsely stocked stalls selling asparagus–white and green–are the only sign that the year is on the move.

A weariness with winter vegetables is affecting me–same old cabbages, same old broccoli.

Much as I love them–love eating and cooking them, I’m ready for a change of color.

I wasn’t proud of myself yesterday buying eight tomatoes “on the vine” ho! ho!–but red, red, red.

(Halved, seasoned, dribbled with olive oil and a little balsamic  vinegar, oven at 200c for 45 minutes and hey presto, it’s summer!)

Green to red please and get a move on.

I rest my case!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ben has a “spring” in his step this morning–he can’t contain it!

He’s been out in the sun and has caught the mood. There is change in the air.

A stillness that is palpable; a blue sky and birdsong.

I’d say his enthusiasm is a little premature, if he’s thinking  Spring is sprung.

Not quite, Ben–though the bird is on the wing.

The deciduous trees in the meadow behind the house are still leafless–but their branch patterns make an agreeable filigree to contemplate from the warm comfort of my snug at breakfast time.

But he’s right that it’s good to be alive, which is what he seems to be saying with his frolicking .

And there are signs….

The bitter almond tree at the end of the garden is full of blossom, as are its fellows all the way to Lautrec.

One moment they are bare; and the next, it seems, there is blossom.

Such is the miracle.

The clutch of daffodils at the entrance to the garden are in no doubt.

We spotted three heifers in the pasture yesterday, where we haven’t seen a cow for months–sent by mum, perhaps, to check the length of the grass for grazing.

No cows today–grass ain’t riz yet, Ma.

For those a bit puzzled…

Spring has sprung,
The grass has riz,
I wonder where the birdie is?
They say the bird is on the wing,
But that’s absurd.
The wing is on the bird!

Dad used to show off by speaking this with a Brooklyn accent.

…they say the “boyd” is on the wing,

But that’s “absoyd”.

The wing is on the “boyd”!

 

 

 

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You’re invited to the Channel Island of Jersey, just off the Brittany coast–to a special charity event for Diabetes Jersey at the Merton Hotel, Oct 11 or 12, 2017 (it’s repeated Wednesday & Thursday evenings).

Recipes and Recollections–A Delicious Night with Robin Ellis

Here’s the info from the Merton Hotel’s website.


 

(My books.)

On stage with me will be Robert Hall, a senior BBC correspondent, who will pepper me with questions while I season various demonstration dishes.

We’ll talk inevitably about Poldark, cooking, diabetes, France and Fawlty Towers perhaps…

(Robert was John Cleese’s “co-star of choice” when he appeared at the Opera House for his sell-out Audience with John Cleese evenings.)

 

 

 

The one vegetable I will not be cooking sadly is a Jersey Royal potatoes.

I remember my mother preparing these jewels of the potato family back in the fifties, when we’d enjoy a feast of “Jersey Royals” with a piece of white fish from the Macfisheries shop at the entrance to the Golders Green Tube Station.

They needed little addition–white sauce would have been an insult to the delicate taste. Perhaps a knob of butter and a sprinkle of parsley. Ma used to serve them unpeeled.

Delicious–but not a goer for me now.

Potatoes are one of the “whites”  I avoid as a type 2 diabetic; their concentrated carbohydrate puts them off-limits.

Others are: white rice, white pasta, white bread and white flourrefined carbs.

Don’t lose heart though–I shall be cooking up a storm…BROWN basmati rice is fine occasionally, as is wholewheat pasta, certain whole wheat and rye breads and chick pea flour.

Cooking school in Lautrec always started with a glass of bubbly.

 

I’ll be preparing the most popular recipe in my entire repertoire:  No-potato fishcakes:

Also planning on preparing no meat, too-simple-to-believe Red Bean Chili:

A delicious black olive dip from Provence called Tapinade:

And a lovely cold summer soup–Chilled Cucumber, gifted to me by my old friend and fellow Poldark alumnus, Donald Douglas (the fiery and thoroughly untrustworthy Captain McNeil, who pursued me as Ross Poldark, up hill and down dale, with no success–so finally gave up–and settled in a house an hour north of us here.

 

 

There’s a Pork Loin roasted with red onions and balsamic vinegar, a Chicken Tagine and plein d’autres chose [much else] as they say here in France.

Stuffed peppers are also an easy favorite I’ll be demonstrating:

 

Dinner is included in the event– and the kitchens of the Merton hotel are putting on a banquet with recipes from my cookbooks–so you can try them out!

I’ll be autographing books too, of course.

Here’s further info for reservations and tickets.

I’m looking forward to my first visit to Jersey and so is Meredith, my wife.

On va se voir bientôt, j’espère!

See you there…!

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On my way down to breakfast this morning, I happened to glance at this photo of Winston and me on the bookshelf.

“Winston!” I thought–there he is; there we are–smiling at the camera–a moment in time.

Winston Graham–a person of great significance in my life!

In the snapshot we are on our back patio in north London, sometime in the early nineties; maybe he’s come to dinner.

It was a brief moment of remembrance.

Days are made up of them. This was a Winston moment.

Late this afternoon, Meredith comes into the kitchen here and says,

“You know it’s Winston Graham’s birthday today? Maybe you should write something…”

I didn’t say, “Winston’s already tipped me the wink!”

Today is his 109th birthday!

Born in 1908 in Manchester, he moved with his family to Perranporth in Cornwall in 1925 after his father died prematurely at 53.

There he married Jean Williamson–whom he’d first met when she was 13 (Demelza’s age when she first met Ross at the fair!). He was just 18. They lived in Cornwall for the next 25 years, bringing up their two children, Andrew and Rosamund.

Winston steeped himself in Cornish history and customs. He wrote the first book of the saga–Ross Poldark--in 1945.

Eleven more books followed. The last in the saga– Bella Poldarkwritten when he was 92!

London Films, the company founded by Alexander Korda, bought the film rights, but–luckily for me and all us Poldarkians–they never managed to make a movie of it.

Instead they teamed up with the Beeb to make the first series in 1975.

And here we are forty years on and the second adaptation is thrilling a new generation of fans.

Bonne Anniversaire, Winston!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We have come to Falcon Field, in Mesa, 20 miles east of Phoenix, Arizona, in search of my father, Anthony Gerald Ellis.

Dad trained to be a fighter pilot for the Royal Air Force (RAF) here in 1944 under a scheme started in 1941 to help shore-up the war effort in Europe.

Many young British pilots had perished in The Battle of Britain in 1940.

Falcon Field was one of several airfields in the USA where members of the RAF—in my father’s case, a flight technician–could train in safety, get their wings and return to the war in Europe.

Dad is standing on the far left under the numeral 2 on the fuselage.

The story of Dad’s American odyssey had long been a part of our family mythology.

His almost permanent tan marked him out as someone who had spent many months in the notorious heat of southwestern United States.

I remember looking in awe at the colour photos in the magazine, Arizona Highways, that would arrive monthly all through the fifties.

Tony, as he was called, was “adopted”—as were all the young fliers—by a family in Phoenix for the duration of his stay.

In his case it was the Smith family whose mission was to make him feel at home at weekends and American holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas–far from his wife (my mother) and me (a two-year-old) back home in war-weary Britain.

(We would love to locate that family–but their name was Smith! They had a daughter named Polly who might be alive still and remember Tony Ellis.)

Meredith and I and our friend Katie Solon arrive at the museum at 9am and the two volunteer receptionists greet us warmly.

When they hear WHY we have come—to find evidence of my father’s time at Falcon Field–they are immediately interested.

“We need to find Dennis Lemon” they agree, “He’s your man—Dennis knows everything there is to know about Falcon Field and its past.”

A promising start, I am thinking, with a rising feeling of hope and expectancy.

For the next two hours that feeling does not evaporate in the intense heat—already 100 degrees! Rather it grows in strength, thanks to the skills of Mr. Dennis Lemon.

Dennis is a senior docent or tour guide at the air museum–and imparts his encyclopedic knowledge of the airfield and its exhibits with charm, humor and authority–and a light touch. He does not rush.

I explain our mission and he is fully engaged–and promises a visit to the archives before the morning ends.

As we start our tour in the first of the two huge hangars that house the museum, a small plane—an F4F Wildcat–taxis out, its propellers spluttering into life with deafening effect.

Dennis explains that it is owned by the pilot who regularly takes it out occasionally for a “run” .

The noise intensifies as the pilot gives us a wave and goes on his way towards the runway.

We spend the morning here in Mesa fascinated by the range of aviation history on show.

There are flying machines from the First World War so flimsy looking that the thought of taking off in one–let alone sparring with the enemy from the cockpit–gives me the shivers.

At the other end of aviation history there is the sinister presence of a Soviet MIG fighter flown here by a Hungarian pilot and gifted to the museum.

In between, airplanes large and small and middling–lovingly cared for–and in some cases prepared for take-off–by a small army of veterans and enthusiasts dedicated to maintaining and growing this remarkable museum as a living and working reminder of the story of war in the air.

Dennis takes us inside the fuselage of a World War 2 Bomber.

With our friend Katie inside the bomber

It is cramped, claustrophobic and unbearably HOT.

The difficult conditions experienced by bomber crews flying into a combat zones suddenly become vividly clear.

We feel humbled–and relieved to get our feet back on the ground.

Poignantly for me, Dennis points out three small aircraft similar to the ones in which my father would have done his training.

One I recognize from a war photo on a wall at home.

A second was involved in a story he used to tell his impressionable sons about his time at Falcon Field.

One morning he took off with others on a training flight going north in the direction of the Grand Canyon.

At a certain point the pilots were instructed to turn RIGHT (east)–and return to Falcon Field.

Dad’s mantra for life was Don’t rock the boat!-but he always maintained that he ignored the order, turned LEFT and flew over the Grand Canyon!

Dennis has an amused look when I relate the story–but confirms that this is plausible.

Dad could well have done it!

HOORAY!

Consequences? He never admitted what happened AFTER he returned to the airfield….

Perhaps the Powers-that-Be let him off with a reprimand—recognising that a sense of initiative in a young pilot should be encouraged in times of war. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.

At the end of our tour, Dennis shows us the small plane in which a newly-qualified pilot would have celebrated earning his wings.

Not Dad–but looks a lot like him.

I am moved– imagining my father’s sense of pride and achievement as he flew off with his wings on his lapel.

And I feel regret–that I hadn’t questioned him more closely about one of the great adventures of his life.

Now for the archives,” says Dennis and leads us into a nondescript room at the back of the second hangar.

He disappears behind a line of filing cabinets and after a couple of minutes emerges with a pile of cardboard boxes filled with leather-bound notebooks.

We spend the next few minutes examining the files–turning over the pages filled with beautifully-calligraphed names dating back to 1941.

Will we find Dad’?

In the last book– on almost the last page–at the very bottom of the list: THERE HE IS!

A thrilling moment! ELLIS, Anthony G.

He got his wings on April 1st, 1945, age 29 –relatively old for a pilot.

The war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945–which is why he survived when many of the pilots who trained here had KIA after their names: Killed In Action.

Dad had spent 33 weeks at Falcon Field–and developed an enduring attachment to the United States.

I only spent two hours, but it was a joy and a privilege, thanks to Dennis Lemon and the volunteers who keep this museum alive.

The museum is special—full of these gleaming beasts of war, glowing with restored life and looked after lovingly by an army of volunteers.

It was a chastening experience too, spending time close up and personal with them–for this lucky boy born into a war, followed–thanks to the deeds of our fathers and grandfathers–by a long period of relative peace in Europe.

I would recommend a visit–even if you are not on a mission to find your Dad!

P.S. Two days later Meredith and I took off in a small fixed-wing plane–similar to Dad’s–and flew through the Grand Canyon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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