Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Absolutely nothing to do with the raid - other than that a thermonuclear explosion would have done for the 'Normandie' Dock, Saint-Nazaire AND a sizeable chunk of southern Brittany - but I have to record a recent and entirely unexpected visit to the charming and disconcertingly knowledgeable nonagenarian historian Lorna Arnold. 

Some years ago I had occasion to research the early years of nuclear fission, and came to be familiar with the names of some of the world's most accomplished physicists - never for a moment imagining that I would one day get to chat with someone who actually knew, and worked, with them. Lorna, as - in her own words - 'an accidental nuclear historian' - had the inside track when it came to recording Britain's efforts to remain a world power post-WW11, by constructing her own Hydrogen bombs at a time when her wartime partner, the United States, had turned its back on cooperation in this field. Typically these beautifully written histories are a record of muddle and parsimony which, in the usual British fashion, somehow led to success via numerous tests, of fission weapons in Australia, and of thermonuclear weapons in the area of Christmas Island. Given the hazards of this not-fully-understood new field, there were, of course, mistakes and one of Lorna's most telling books describes the serious 1957 nuclear accident at Windscale  -

As part of an amazingly full life, Lorna served in ruined Berlin immediately after the war, and in Washington, where she was given a tour of the newly constructed Pentagon building. All of this and more is now on record in her autobiography 'My Short Century'. 

An amazing experience for me to be able to chat, over coffee, about fission, fusion, moderators, capture cross-sections and myriad other issues, with a 96-year-old whose knowledge, passion and recall proved truly inspirational.

Further details on Lorna's site - Sadly none of the images can convey the warmth and power of those piercing blue eyes.......

U-Boat Pen Graffiti

Thanks to Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Corden, whose camera was working - unlike my own - when we toured the 'closed' areas of the U-Boat Pen complex, we have an image of wall-text left behind some 67 years ago, by a French soldier belonging to the 4th RĂ©giment de Fusiliers Marins. Saint-Nazaire had, of course, been a heavily fortified 'pocket', which finally surrendered to the American General Kraemer and French General Chomel, on May 8th, 1945 (the link below, also kindly provided by Paul, provides more detail).