Saro London II

Saro London II

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Saro London II

A Saro London II, one of the generation of biplane flying boats that were replaced in service by the Short Sunderland. This aircraft belonged to No.240 Squadron, which operated the type from July 1939 to July 1940

Elizabeth II

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Elizabeth II, in full Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, officially Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, (born April 21, 1926, London, England), queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from February 6, 1952. In 2015 she surpassed Victoria to become the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

When and where was Elizabeth II born?

Elizabeth II was born on April 21, 1926, in London.

What is Elizabeth II known for?

Elizabeth II is the queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. She is the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

How did Elizabeth II become famous?

Elizabeth was born into royalty as the daughter of the second son of King George V. After her uncle Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 (subsequently becoming duke of Windsor), her father became King George VI, and she became heir presumptive. Elizabeth assumed the title of queen upon her father’s death in 1952.

How was Elizabeth II educated?

The princess’s education was supervised by her mother, who entrusted Elizabeth and her sister to a governess, Marion Crawford. Elizabeth was grounded in history by C.H.K. Marten, afterward provost of Eton College, and had instruction from visiting teachers in music and languages.

What was Elizabeth II’s family like?

Elizabeth was born to Prince Albert and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and had a younger sister, Princess Margaret. She is also a descendant of Queen Victoria. Elizabeth married her distant cousin Philip Mountbatten and had four children: Prince Charles (heir apparent), Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward. Her extensive family includes several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Will We Ever Know Why Nazi Leader Rudolf Hess Flew to Scotland in the Middle of World War II?

On the night of May 10, 1941, a Scottish farmer named David McLean found a German Messerschmitt airplane ablaze in his field and a parachutist who identified himself as Captain Alfred Horn. McLean's mum was soon serving him a cup of tea by the cottage fireside, but their surprise guest was no ordinary Luftwaffe pilot. Incredibly, he was Rudolf Hess, a longtime Hitler loyalist, to say the least. Hess joined the Nazi party in 1920, stood with his friend Adolf Hitler at the Beer Hall Putsch, and served in Landsberg prison -- where he took dictation for much of Mein Kampf. As deputy Fuhrer, Hess was positioned behind only Hermann Goering in the succession hierarchy of the Nazi regime that had Europe firmly under the heel of its jackboot.

Hess's appearance on Scottish soil, a self-described mission of peace just weeks before Hitler would launch his ill-fated invasion of the Soviet Union, was one of the war's strangest incidents. The search for explanations began on the morning after and has roiled on now for 75 years, spawning theories both intriguing (World War II might have ended differently) and bizarre (the man wasn't Hess at all but a body double.) The truth is likely as interesting as any of the fantasies—but it's still not entirely certain what happened 75 years ago.

The fuselage from Hess' plane, now on view at the Imperial War Museum (Wikimedia Commons) A photo taken of Hess plane where it crashed in Scotland (Wikimedia Commons)

The Hess flight was remarkable in itself. He left an airfield near Munich in a small Messerschmitt fighter-bomber a little before 6 p.m., flying up the Rhine and across the North Sea. Hess displayed considerable skill by navigating such a course alone, using only charts and maps, on a foggy dark night over largely unfamiliar terrain—all while  avoiding being shot down by British air defenses. By 10:30, Hess was over Scotland, out of fuel, and forced to bail out just 12 miles from his destination.

That unlikely site was Dungavel House, home of the Duke of Hamilton. Hess hoped to make contact with one of the highly placed British figures who, unlike Churchill, were willing to make peace with the Nazis on Hitler's terms. Hess believed that Hamilton headed a faction of such people and immediately asked his captors to be taken to him. But Hess was misinformed. Hamilton, who wasn't home that night but on duty commanding an RAF air base, was committed to his country and to its fight against Germany.    

The unlikely envoy's mission quickly took a turn for the worse. When granted a meeting with Hamilton the next day Hess's pleas fell on deaf ears. Worse for Hess, he denied from the start that Hitler knew anything of his mission, which meant that the British afforded him none of the diplomatic respect to which he thought he'd be entitled. Instead he was imprisoned, and by the night of June 16, the obvious failure of his mission left Hess so mentally shattered that he attempted suicide by hurling himself down a flight of stairs.

Hess spent the war in British hands, confined in various locales including (briefly) the Tower of London and a military hospital at which he was even allowed guarded drives in the country. He was visited frequently by intelligence officers eager for secrets and by psychiatrists eager to plumb the Nazi mind—which in Hess's case increasingly showed serious signs of mental illness. The psychiatric examinations were rooted less in concern for Hess's mental health than in the hope that this fanatically devoted Nazi could provide them valuable insights about how the criminals ruling Germany, including Hitler himself, thought.

Hess was transferred back to Nuremberg for the post-war trials in October, 1945, where he escaped the hangman but was sentenced to life in prison. He spent the rest of his long life, 46 years, as Prisoner Number 7 in Spandau where he lingered long after the other Nazis were freed. Hess was the facility's only prisoner for more than 20 years, his term ending only when the 93-year-old was found hanging from a lamp cord in a garden building in August 1987. The suicide was denounced as a murder by those, including Hess's own son, who suspected he'd been silenced.

But Hess's death didn't end the questions. Had he really come alone? Had someone sent him to Scotland or had someone sent for him?

News of Hess's flight was a bombshell in Berlin, and Nazi authorities quickly moved to disassociate him from the regime. The German public was quickly told that Hess suffered from mental disturbance and hallucinations.

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist who knew much about such tactics, feared that the British would use Hess as part of a devastating campaign targeting German morale. He worried in his private diary on May 14 that the German public was “rightly asking how such a fool could be second to the Fuhrer.” 

But the furor gradually died down. Though Hess held a powerful title, his actual influence in the Nazi hierarchy had waned dramatically by 1941, so much so that some have speculated that his flight was born of hopes to regain Hitler's favor by delivering him an agreement with the British. Instead his departure simply consolidated the power of his ambitious and manipulative former deputy Martin Bormann.

Yet a persistent theory has suggested that Hess's ill-fated peace mission was actually carried out with Hitler's knowledge—and the understanding that he'd be disavowed as insane if it failed.

In 2011, Matthias Uhl of the German Historical Institute Moscow unearthed some purported evidence for this claim. Hess's adjutant, Karlheinz Pintsch, had handed Hitler an explanatory letter from Hess on the morning after the flight, and Uhl discovered a report featuring Pintsch's description of that encounter in the State Archive of the Russian Federation.

Pintsch claimed that the Hitler received his report calmly. The flight occurred "by prior arrangement with the English,” Pintsch wrote, adding that Hess was tasked to "use all means at his disposal to achieve, if not a German military alliance with England against Russia, at least the neutralization of England."

This version aligns well with Soviet claims dating back to Stalin himself that British intelligence services had been touch with Hess and duped him into the flight. In fact they may align too well, for the statement was produced during the decade when Pintsch was an often-tortured Soviet prisoner and its language smacks of Cold War propaganda terminology—suggesting the Soviets coerced the version from Pintsch.

Indeed other witnesses reported a very different reaction from Hitler. Inner circle Nazi Albert Speer, waiting outside Hitler's office during the meeting, described the Nazi leader's reaction as “an inarticulate, almost animal out-cry” of rage.  “What bothered him was that Churchill might use the incident to pretend to Germany's allies that Hitler was extending a peace feeler,” Speer wrote in Inside the Third Reich. “'Who will believe me when I say that Hess did not fly there in my name, that the whole thing is not some sort of intrigue behind the backs of my allies? Japan might even alter her policy because of this,'” he quotes Hitler, while also noting Hitler's hope that Hess might luckily crash and die in the North Sea.

Speer discussed the flight with Hess himself 25 years later when both were incarcerated in Spandau. “Hess assured me in all seriousness that the idea had been inspired in him in a dream by supernatural forces,” he said. "We will guarantee England her empire in return she will give us a free hand in Europe." That was the message he took to England— without managing to deliver it. It had also been one of Hitler's recurrent formulas before and occasionally even during the war.”

British historian Peter Padfield explores the “British duped Hess” theory in Hess, Hitler & Churchill. As with much of the Hess affair definitive evidence is lacking but a few tantalizing possibilities exist. Padfield has unearthed intriguing nuggets from period sources: the diary of a well-placed Czech exile who'd viewed a report suggesting an English trap, reports of Soviet spies who'd uncovered now untraceable evidence of the same. In 2010 the son of a Finnish intelligence agent who'd been on Britain's payroll claimed that his father was involved in the plot.

The official records that have been made available, perhaps not surprisingly, reveal no such role for the British intelligence services. The most plausible motivation for such a plot, were it ever to have existed, was that the British hoped it would convince Hitler to scrap or at least postpone an invasion of Britain a peace settlement would make such a drastic and dangerous step unnecessary and free him to focus on the battle against his most hated enemy—the Soviet Union.

MI5 files declassified in 2004 suggest that Hess did have his adviser Albrecht Haushofer pen a letter to Hamilton in 1940, suggesting that a neutral site meeting could advance secret peace talks. British intelligence intercepted that letter, investigated (and exonerated) Hamilton for being part of a pro-peace Nazi plot, and seriously considered the possibility of replying to set up a double-cross.

But they dismissed the scheme and simply let the matter drop without ever knowing that Hess was the man behind the communication, the official files suggest.

However those files are far from complete. Some of the intelligence files on the Hess affair are known to have been 'weeded,' or destroyed. Whatever information they held is lost—but other classified files remain and have yet to be released.

Conspiracy theorists suspect that the documents could contain not only transcripts of interrogations but correspondence between Hess and other figures including George VI. But Douglas-Hamilton, who has written his own book on the Hess affair, suspects they won't embarrass prominent Britons who really did want to deal with Hess but rather they'll likely confirm the standard story.

“The evidence shows Britain had an honorable record in fighting the Third Reich and did not swerve from that position,” he told The Scotsman. “Excessive secrecy with regard to the release of relevant material has, and can serve to, obscure that reality.”

In recent years a few other secret files have emerged. In 2013 a U.S. auction house offered an astounding folder of documents, still marked top secret, some 300 pages that appear to have been authored by Hess himself during his wartime captivity and carried with him to the Trial of the Major War Criminals in Nuremberg. They had been missing ever since.

The files are shrouded in a Hollywood-style intrigue who got their hands on them, and how exactly, and why did they then simply give them away to the current seller for nothing via an anonymous phone call? But the papers themselves tend to dispel mysteries rather than raise them, and that’s assuming that the contents are genuine. The auction house made some scans and transcripts of them public for the sale, and it’s unclear if they ever changed hands. In one of the digitized documents, Hess described his interview with Hamilton on the morning after his flight in a passage that perhaps provides the best window into the workings of the mind that conceived this unusual attempt.

“The British cannot continue the war without coming to terms with Germany…By my coming to England, the British Government can now declare that they are able to have talks…convinced that the offer by the Fuhrer is genuine,” the files note.  

But the rulers of Great Britain were convinced of no such thing. Former Foreign Secretary Lord Simon, the highest-placed person known to have met Hess, interviewed him on June 10 a few days before his first suicide attempt. "Hess has come on his own initiative,” Simon wrote of the meeting. “He has not flown over on the orders, or with the permission or previous knowledge, of Hitler. It is a venture of his own.”

With that Hess was simply locked up for the rest of his long days, though Winston Churchill, writing in The Grand Alliance, claimed at least some distress at his fate.

“Whatever may be the moral guilt of a German who stood near to Hitler, Hess had, in my view, atoned for this by his completely devoted and frantic deed of lunatic benevolence,” he wrote. “He came to us of his own free will, and, though without authority, had something of the quality of an envoy. He was a medical and not a criminal case, and should be so regarded.”

RELATED: During his captivity Hess often suspected that his meals were being poisoned. Incredibly, food packets that he wrapped and sealed at Nuremberg for future analysis have been sitting in a Maryland basement for 70 years.

The Beefeaters

Over the ensuing centuries, many towers as well as a protective wall were added to the Tower of London complex. In the late 1200s, for example, King Edward I ordered the construction of a mint in the complex, which remained in use until 1968.

Since 1485, security at the Tower of London complex has been maintained by a special order of guards known as the Yeomen Warders, commonly known as “the Beefeaters.”

The name of the Beefeaters is allegedly based on a comment from an Italian nobleman in the 17th century, who remarked that members of the security corps were given a large daily ration of beef.

The World War II History Beneath Our Feet

Q: After all the bombings and devastation of European cities during World War II, where did they put all the rubble? I have seen locally where a building or two have been demolished and the rubble trucked away, but where would the massive piles of rubble from entire cities be shipped?

—Jose Emilio Hernandez, Union Beach, New Jersey

A: As reader Hernandez correctly points out, the millions of tons of bombs dropped by both the Allied and Axis powers left an indelible mark on Europe. Dozens of cities, including London, Bristol, Warsaw, Dresden, Frankfurt, and Berlin—and nearly all other major German cities—suffered significant damage or were completely razed.

In continental cities, much of the post-bombing rubble was used as hardcore, a base foundation upon which concrete or other solid construction materials can be laid for building (or rebuilding, in this case). Additional bomb rubble was either dumped in old quarries or used for embanking rivers, as barriers against coastal erosion, or to help build up low-lying areas of land.

The vast bulk of London’s rubble was dumped in East London’s Lea Valley, where the River Lea flows down to join the Thames. So much detritus was deposited in Hackney and Leyton Marshes that the Museum of London estimates it raised the ground by up to 10 feet in numerous places. This is the area where, a half-century later, organizers built the Olympic Park for the 2012 Summer Olympic games.

Rubble from Bristol found a more interesting resting place. Bristol is a major British port city that suffered horribly from bombing it was almost leveled by the war’s end. But the port kept working, and American supply ships arrived there laden with tanks, aircraft, and fuel oil for the English war effort. Once the ships unloaded their cargo, they needed ballast to make the journey back across the Atlantic. Since most of Bristol’s 85,000 destroyed buildings were lying in little bits, the ships filled up.

Courtesy of Waterside Plaza

The ships offloaded the rubble in Manhattan, in the East River, and New York built on top of it, creating reclaimed land just east of Bellevue Hospital between 23th and 34th Streets. Some of this new land became the foundation for an extension of the FDR Drive highway, and some became a triangular plot of land jutting into the river that was known at the time as Bristol Basin but which is now a complex of apartments buildings and businesses called Waterside Plaza. Across the road from the hospital, on a low wall by the river, a plaque reads:

Beneath this East River Drive of the city of New York lie stones, bricks and rubble from the bombed city of Bristol in England … Brought here in ballast from overseas, these fragments that once were homes shall testify while men love freedom to the resolution and fortitude of the people of Britain. They saw their homes struck down without warning … It was not their walls but their valor that kept them free.

— John Maloney, former Principal Archaeology Officer, Museum of London

Send questions to: Ask World War II , 1919 Gallows Road, Suite 400, Vienna, VA 22182 or email: [email protected]

This article was published in the October 2019 issue ofWorld War II.

The tragic 1824 journey of the Hawaiian king and queen to London: history of measles in Hawaii

The susceptibility of isolated island-based populations to acute infections like measles is well documented, most clearly in Fiji and the Faröe Islands. We review the remarkably tragic 1824 journey of King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamamalu of Hawaii to London and the later enormous impact of measles on Hawaii on first arrival in 1848. The young royalty came to seek an audience with King George IV to negotiate an alliance with England. Virtually the entire royal party developed measles within weeks of arrival, 7 to 10 days after visiting the Royal Military Asylum housing hundreds of soldiers' children. Within the month the king (27) and queen (22) succumbed to measles complications. Their bodies were transported to Hawaii by Right Honorable Lord Byron (Captain George Anson, the poet's cousin). Before 1848 measles was unknown in Hawaii. Several epidemics struck Hawaii in late 1848, beginning with measles and pertussis, then diarrhea and influenza. Measles arrived at this time from California, spreading from Hilo, Hawaii, through all the islands 10% to 33% of the population died. Subsequent measles epidemics occurred in 1861, 1889 to 1890, 1898, and 1936 to 1937, the latter with 205 deaths. The imported epidemics of infections including measles diminished Hawaii's population from approximately 300,000 at Captain Cook's arrival in 1778 to 135,000 in 1820 and 53,900 in 1876. The measles deaths of the king and queen in London in 1824, likely acquired visiting a large children's home, was a harbinger of the devastating impact of measles upon Hawaiians 24 years later with its first arrival to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands.

King Richard II

At only ten years of age, Richard II assumed the crown, becoming King of England in June 1377 until his untimely and catastrophic demise in 1399.

Born in January 1367 in Bordeaux, Richard was the son of Edward, Prince of Wales, more commonly known as the Black Prince. His father’s successful military escapades during the Hundred Years’ War had won him great plaudits, however in 1376 he succumbed to dysentery and left Edward III without his heir.

Meanwhile, the English Parliament were quick to make arrangements, fearing that Richard’s uncle, John of Gaunt would ascend the throne in place of the Black Prince. In order to prevent this, Richard was given the princedom of Wales and inherited several of his father’s titles, ensuring that when the time came, Richard would become the next King of England.

When Edward passed away after a lengthy fifty year reign, Richard was crowned king at Westminster Abbey on 16th July 1377.

Scene following the coronation of King Richard II

In order to deal with the continued threat that John of Gaunt posed to the young king, Richard found himself surrounded by “councils”, from which Gaunt found himself excluded. The councillors however included the likes of Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford who would gain considerable control over royal affairs whilst Richard had not come of age. By 1380, the council was viewed with suspicion by the House of Commons and found itself discontinued.

Richard who was still only a teenager found himself in the midst of a volatile political and social situation, one which he had inherited from his grandfather.

The fallout from the Black Death, the continued conflict with France and Scotland, not to mention the increasingly high taxation and the anti-clerical stirrings produced a great surge of grievances which inevitably precipitated social unrest, namely the Peasants’ Revolt.

This was a time when Richard was forced to prove himself, something he did with great ease when he successfully suppressed the Peasants’ Revolt at just fourteen years of age.

In 1381, the combination of social and economic concerns came to a head. The Peasants’ Revolt began in Kent and Essex where a group of peasants, famously led by Wat Tyler, gathered at Blackheath. The army of peasants, almost 10,000 strong had met in London, incensed by the flat rate poll tax. The decaying relationship between peasant and landowner had only been exacerbated by the Black Death and the demographic challenges it had wrought. The poll tax of 1381 was the final straw: anarchy soon ensued.

One of the first targets of this band of peasants was John of Gaunt who had his illustrious palace burnt to the ground. Destruction of property was only the first stage: the peasants went on to kill the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was also Lord Chancellor, Simon Sudbury. Moreover, the Lord High Treasurer, Robert Hales was also murdered at this time.

Whilst the peasants out in the street demanded the end of serfdom, Richard had taken shelter in the Tower of London surrounded by his councillors. It was soon agreed that negotiation was the only tactic they had to hand and Richard II took the lead.

Richard confronts the rebels

Still only a young boy, Richard twice met with the rebel group, appealing to their calls for change. It was a courageous act for any man, let alone a teenage boy.

Richard’s promises were however doubted by Wat Tyler: this, combined with a restless tension brewing on either side, eventually led to a skirmish. In the chaos and confusion the Mayor of London, William Walworth, pulled Tyler off his horse and killed him.

The rebels were enraged by this act but the king very quickly diffused the situation with the words:
“You shall have no captain but me”.

The rebel group was led away from the scene whilst Walworth gathered his forces. Richard gave the peasant group a chance to return home unharmed, however in the coming days and weeks, with further outbreaks of rebellion popping up across the country, Richard chose to deal with them with far less leniency and clemency.

“For as long as we live we will strive to suppress you, and your misery will be an example in the eyes of posterity”.

The leaders were executed and with the last of the rebels defeated in Billericay, Richard suppressed the revolutionaries with an iron fist. His triumph boosted his own self-belief that he had the divine right to rule as king however Richard’s absolutism ran in direct conflict with those in parliament.

Meeting of Richard with Anne of Bohemia and Charles IV

High on his success with the Peasants’ Revolt, in January 1382 he married Anne of Bohemia, the daughter of Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor. This marriage had been instigated by Michael de la Pole who held an increasingly significant role in court. The union was a diplomatic one as Bohemia was a useful ally against France in the continuing conflict of the Hundred Yeas War.

Sadly, the marriage did not prove to be a fortunate one. It was not well-received in England and failed to produce an heir. Anne of Bohemia later died from the plague in 1394, an event which greatly affected Richard.

As Richard continued to make his decisions in court, resentment was brewing. Michael de la Pole quickly became one of his favourites, assuming the role of Chancellor in 1383 and taking on the title of Earl of Suffolk. This did not sit well with the established aristocracy who became antagonised by the king’s favourites including another figure, Robert de Vere who was appointed Regent of Ireland in 1385.

Meanwhile, punitive action across the border in Scotland did not bear any fruit and an attack on southern England by France was only narrowly avoided. At this time, Richard’s relationship with his uncle, John of Gaunt ultimately soured and growing dissent would soon find expression.

John of Gaunt

In 1386, the Wonderful Parliament formed with the main aim of securing promises of reform from the king. Richard’s continued favouritism had been increasing his unpopularity, not to mention his demands for more money in order to invade France.

The stage was set: Parliament, both the House of Lords and House of Commons, united against him, targeting Michael de la Pole with impeachment for both embezzlement and negligence.

Those who had launched the impeachment known as the Lords Appellant were a group of five nobles, one of whom was Richard’s uncle, who wanted to curb the increasingly authoritarian powers of both de la Pole and he king.

In response, Richard attempted to dissolve parliament, only to face more grave threats to his own position.

With his own uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester, leading the Lords Appellant, Richard found himself facing the threat of deposition.

Backed into a corner, Richard was forced to withdraw his support for de la Pole and sack him as Chancellor.

He was also faced with more restrictions on his power to appoint any further positions.

Richard was affronted by this attack on his divine right to rule and set about investigating legal challenges to these new restrictions. Inevitably, the battle would become physical.

In 1387, the Lords Appellant successfully defeated Robert de Vere and his forces in a conflict at Radcot Bridge just outside Oxford. This was a blow to Richard who would be maintained more as a figurehead whilst the real distribution of power lay with the parliament.

The following year, the “Merciless Parliament” sentenced the king’s favourites such as de la Pole who was forced to flee abroad.

Such actions incensed Richard whose absolutism was being called into question. In a few years he would bide his time and reassert his position by purging the Lords Appellants.

By 1389, Richard had come of age and blamed past mistakes on his councillors. Moreover, it was at this time that a reconciliation of sorts manifested itself between Richard and John of Gaunt allowing for a peaceful transition to national stability for the next few years.

In this time, Richard dealt with the pressing issue of the lawlessness of Ireland and successfully invaded with more than 8,000 men. He also at this time negotiated a 30 year truce with France which lasted almost twenty years. As part of this agreement, Richard agreed to a marriage with Isabella, Charles VI daughter, when she came of age. An unorthodox betrothal considering she was only six years old at the time and the prospect of an heir was many years away!

Whilst stability had been steadily growing, Richard’s revenge in the latter half of his reign would exemplify his tyrannical image. A purge on the Lords Appellants took place, with the cull even including his own uncle, Thomas of Gloucester who was imprisoned for treason in Calais only to be subsequently murdered. Meanwhile, the Earl of Arundel met a sticky end when he was beheaded for his involvement, whilst the Earls of Warwick and Nottingham were thrust into exile.

More importantly perhaps was the fate of John of Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbroke who was sent into exile for ten years. Such a sentence however was quickly extended by Richard when John of Gaunt died in 1399.

By this point, Richard’s despotism permeated all of his decisions and his judgement of Bolingbroke’s fate would prove his final nail in the coffin.

Bolingbroke’s exile was extended and his estates seized, leading to atmosphere of menace and intimidation. The House of Lancaster represented a real threat to his kingship.

In 1399, Henry Bolingbroke seized his opportunity, invading and overthrowing Richard in a matter of months.

King Henry IV

The path for Bolingbroke’s ascension to power was clear and in October 1399, he became King Henry IV of England.

The first task on the agenda: silencing Richard forever. In January 1400, Richard II died in captivity at Pontefract Castle.

Jessica Brain is a freelance writer specialising in history. Based in Kent and a lover of all things historical.

A short history of London Part II: From the Great Fire to the present

Part II of our short history of the capital, from the Great Fire to the present, by way of wars, Imperial grandeur, decline and reinvention as a World City.

From the reconstruction following the Great Fire – which gave us St Paul’s Cathedral – through the huge growth of London in the 18th and 19th centuries, the bombings of the Blitz and post-WW2 decline, to the 21st century reinvention as a ‘world city’, the modern history of London is a fascinating tour.

London was called ‘the great wen’ and 'a Human awful wonder of God' – the biggest city the world had ever known, the capital of the biggest empire the world had ever known, and in this talk we'll look at the trade, industry and people that made it rich meet the immigrants - from the rest of the British Isles and around the globe - that made it the most dynamic city in the world explore the districts and the buildings that sprang up as the city grew and look at how transport, infrastructure, health and housing were improved over the years.

If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the history of the greatest city in the world, this is the place to start!

Top World War II History Sites in London

Having survived two world wars, London is a city steeped in military history. Visitors hoping to learn more about wartime Britain will find fascinating WWII sites right in the capital—and here are our picks for the most interesting ones.

Imperial War Museum London

The pièce de résistance of England’s wartime treasures, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) London is devoted to telling the wartime stories of British soldiers, the Royal Air Force, and UK citizens, and to educating younger generations on the Great Wars. The vast permanent collection of war memorabilia includes a re-created World War I bunker and exhibits on both world wars.

Churchill War Rooms

Part of the Imperial War Museums, the original Churchill War Rooms explore the workings of the UK’s WWII-era government. The rooms were home to Britain’s government during the Blitz (1940 and 1941) and include the Cabinet War Room, where Winston Churchill once declared, “This is the room from which I will direct the war.” Today the museum—a maze of rooms hidden deep underground—explores the life and legacy of Churchill, and includes stories, speeches, photos, and documents that serve to bring to life the secret history of Britain at war.

HMS Belfast

This mighty World War II warship, moored on the south side of the Thames since 1971 and now part of the IWM, contains nine decks of exhibits and restored living and working quarters. Visitors can explore onboard the HMS Belfast, climb the sailor’s ladders, peek into the operations and engine rooms, and learn about life at war and at sea from WWII to 1963.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

The magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral is not only an architectural masterpiece and one of London’s most memorable landmarks, but it was also a symbol of hope during WWII, when it famously survived the Blitz. Also of note is the American Memorial Chapel, paid for entirely by public donations and displaying a Roll of Honour containing the names of over 28,000 Americans who gave their lives during the Second World War.

Winston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience

An interactive re-creation of Britain at war during the Blitz, this museum offers unique insight into British history and life in the war. Visitors have the chance to experience what it was like in an air-raid shelter, listen to wartime news via the underground cinema or the BBC radio studio, learn about life on the home front, and even dress up in wartime clothing.

History of the Centre

The QEII Centre has been hosting conferences and events for over 34 years since it was opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 24th June 1986. Designed by the architects Powell, Moya and partners, the Centre was built to meet the demand for a conference centre with the appropriate facilities to host major international government conferences as well as servicing the needs of commercial event organisers.

From its prime location in the heart of Westminster, the Centre has hosted over 13,000 events since 1986. It continues to attract clients from a diverse range of sectors. Our experienced and friendly team are very familiar to our clients with 12 staff having been with the QEII Centre for over 20 years.


The QEII Centre is renowned for being the home of influencers, innovators and pioneers from a range of industries and professionals across the globe. It has hosted key royal, political and sporting events that have shaped history. From the EU Presidency Summit in its first year to the inaugural speech delivered by Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 2019.

In between times the Centre has played a primary role in a wide variety of events such as the Palestinian Peace Talks, The Tour De France, Lockerbie Bombing press conference as well as Royal weddings and funerals. It has also hosted Her Majesty The Queen, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Nelson Mandela, as well as sporting, political and industry leaders from across the globe.

Our Site

The site the Centre is built on is steeped in history. Originally an island formed by two streams called Thorney Island, it has been home to Kings and Queens and historic figures including Chaucer, Caxton, Pepys, John Milton and Edward Burke. Prior to becoming a conference facility, the Centre had several uses, including a rebuilt infirmary which was on the site from 1832-1950 and as a car park, until construction began in 1982.

Artwork and Facilities

Powell, Moya and partners placed considerable importance on aspects including the need to incorporate artwork into the design, accentuate the views of the building and ensure that the Centre was adaptable to different event requirements. As part of the design, several artworks were commissioned with the focus on British artists of the post-war generation. The most famous of these is a large-scale wooden sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi on the west wall of the Britten. His sculpture contains reference to musical themes in general and the music of Benjamin Britten.

Magnificent views in three directions highlight the historical and architectural quality of the buildings in the surrounding areas such as Westminster Abbey, The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. None more so than on the sixth floor from the Mountbatten lobby, where the panoramic view stretches beyond the Shard and takes in other modern landmarks such as the London Eye.

The facilities were designed to be flexible so that meetings and events could take place for a variety of audience sizes from small gatherings to global events of up to 2,500 attendees. Since its inception the QEII Centre has invested in its facilities and continues to do so. The largest major refurbishment took place in the mid-2010s, where it underwent a four stage, multimillion-pound modernisation programme. This focused on several areas including a comprehensive upgrade of the main entrance, foyer and reception areas, wayfinding and signage to improve the guest experience, replacement of the carpet and furniture as well as new ceilings and lighting.

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