Friday, 16 October 2015

That Nazi gold train - just a thought

No doubt it will cost a lot of money to dig down 8-10 metres to find the train in Poland, and it might take a lot of legal wrangling to get the job done to everyone's satisfaction. But photographs on Facebook show that, on the surface there are ventilation shafts. Surely someone could use some high tech system or even low tech system, to suspend a camera on a wire - like keyhole surgery? How about even sending a drone down there to fly through the length of the tunnel? Oh well, I was just saying. And there is a medical robotics expert in Wroclaw - I have his card.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Poland's Nazi Gold Train

This August, whilst preparing for my short talk in Wroclaw, Poland, to my delight there was exciting topical news all over the international press. It was that Nazi gold train hidden in a tunnel in nearby Walbrzych, ever since 1945, having been stuffed with loot from Wroclaw's bank vaults and spirited away. I should say the old German name, Breslau because it was part of Germany in those days - on their far easterly border, with the Russians rapidly approaching westward over the plains. No doubt they were hiding it for future use, about 50 miles closer to Berlin. As you can see from the map, the railway offered a direct route towards the Silesian forests and mountains, well known as hunting country.

Now I had the beginnings of an adventure. Well, the fabulous castle near Walbrzych was already part of my talk and slide show. This was because of the historic link with Winston Churchill. His aunty, Princess Daisy, lived there! In the days when it was part of the German Reich, the castle was known as Schloss Furstenstein, and nowadays in Polish it is called Zamek Ksiaz. Here is a bird's eye view in 2015 -  keep a lazy eye out for  the main road and railway lines down in the valley.....south south east - 1.5 miles or 2.41 km away - precisely.

 I discovered from the Churchill Archives and other primary sources, that back in 1906, Winston was trying to wangle a visit since Kaiser Bill would be using the region of this beautiful, much fought-over Silesia for his military manoeuvres, involving 50,000 troops and machinery, showing off the huge Germanic power to numerous international dignitaries. The Churchill archives at Cambridge show that he had actually asked Daisy's brother, George Cornwallis-West to fix it for him (but then denied it), however in the end, he did receive a formal invitation via the Embassy from the Kaiser himself, along with the offer of the use of a horse and a personal military man to accompany him. So along with the Kaiser's other VIP guests, Winston was put up at the old Golden Goose hotel, slap bang in the centre of Breslau (where Chopin had famously stayed) and was woken up very early each morning to catch a special train to watch the manoeuvres.

On King Edward VII's instructions, Winston didn't put a step wrong with the Kaiser (the King's nephew), even having a 20 minute conversation with him and learning a lot, meanwhile. The Kaiser even sent him some autographed official commemorative photos from September's manoeuvres, along with new year's greetings for 1907.

              Close up of a  sneaky photo opportunity for Kaiser Wilhelm with young Major Churchill, September 1906

Winston wrote up the whole story eventually and it was published several times as 'The German Splendour' -  most recently in his 'Thoughts and Adventures'. I found out from Princess Daisy's personal diaries also published years later, that Winston did get to visit the castle for social events that week - twice, but not to stay.  She never did take to him, and she disagreed with his politics. But she too could see storms ahead - she was a passionate peacemaker with influence across nations and even a famed beauty.

So the next piece of research was 'walking the walk' - a bus journey from Wroclaw, alighting at the castle's Palm House, then a walk through the park and all round the castle. I was interested to read that Princess Daisy's German husband became a megalomaniac, spending money like water to impress all the heads of Europe with his rebuilding in the years 1909 - 1923. He must have made a good job of it, because although the family then faced personal and financial ruination, during World War 2, someone pounced on the potential: "Ksiaz was being prepared for one of the quarters of the Fuhrer." The sightseeing leaflet states this.

No surprise, then, when I was chatting with a member of staff at the main railway station at Wroclaw on 24th September. He volunteered the information (including showing me on Google Earth) of exactly where the Nazi gold train is - just a stone's throw from the Palm House and on an old spur from the main railway track - 10 metres down, and on land nowadays belonging to a Toyota dealer.

Last weekend, Philip helped me trace back on Google Earth and screen capture the location I had been shown.

So to be specific - the site is, as the drone flies, 2.41 km SSE of Ksiaz, under a wooded mound parallel to the main railway line to Wroclaw, north east from the road bridge on 'Uczniowska'. Just to the right of it is the Toyota dealership - Toyotakowski Walbrzych Sp.z.oo . To the right of the mainline track you can see a deserted track - I gather from another blogger like me that the rails have been removed but the sleepers are still visible to this day - and this would have been part of the old pre-war porcelain factory.  I wonder if, in early 1945, was there another track between the two, positioned for a quick getaway towards Berlin, and visible traces erased?

Having visited Dresden's porcelain factory last year and then Schindler's enamel factory in Krakow last month - and knowing that, during WW2, factories had to incorporate some clandestine war production techniques, I just wonder what else they were up to there. What an excellent location for secrecy, and thank goodness it wasn't suspected and bombed to oblivion.

Here is my fellow blogger's most recent 'on the spot' posting - good work:

If we look at that first map again, showing the location of present-day Polish cities Wroclaw and Walbrzych, notice the Polish border, to the south. That relocation southwards was all decided after the end of WW2, and Mr Winston Churchill definitely has credit for that.

Now the location I was given is confirmed with helicopter film footage! A travel tip for the future when visiting Wroclaw: You should see the splendour of the Kaiser's VIP suite at the castellated, newly renovated, Wroclaw railway station. Even Michael Portillo in his TV series didn't get to see behind the scenes like I did on a personal guided tour with the station manager this September. The ceilings currently under lock and key are magnificently decorated with four coats of arms, for the four German Kingdoms: Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and W├╝rttemberg, and in the centre is a massive golden sun, to represent the Kaiser's enormous power over all his kingdoms. It may be turned into a sophisticated restaurant eventually. However, for those on lowly budgets happy to eat fast food, you can still enjoy the two amazing gold ceilings from the German Reich while you have an American-style coffee or some fried chicken, and dream of discovering Nazi gold from 70 years ago.

Friday, 11 September 2015


Lots of new babies recently!  Here are some of the quilts I've made.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The story of FW Twort FRS travels to Poland

Back in 2008 I discovered in the Wellcome Trust archives that the famous expert microbiologist and discoverer of bacteriophages, Frederick W Twort was actually born and bred here in Surrey, and I could contact his only son and biographer, Dr Antony Twort.

It was a pleasure to invite Antony to tea. He already knew the way to Reigate because he had regularly driven himself to the Bourne Gallery round the corner in Lesbourne Road (now a trendy bike cafe) for occasional exhibitions.  Little did I know at the time that he had a famous watercolour artist as a distant relative - Flora Twort - whose own magnificent works are permanently on display in the gallery named after her in Petersfield. Antony very kindly brought me some goodies - a copy of his biography, which he inscribed for me, a copy of a crucial Penguin book from 1949 (Science News 14), which was from his father's own stash as one of the key authors, plus a splendid commemorative poster from the American Society of Microbiology that gives his father the credit he deserves in history.

Then in 2012 I also had the pleasure of inviting Antony to lunch - just before his 90th birthday, and I was able to give him an inscribed copy of my book - well, really, I had only written one of the chapters, but I included lots of material about the legendary FW Twort and the pioneering work he did.  It is now, in 2015, exactly 100 years since his discovery was first published in the Lancet, and I hope his son Antony has received my exciting news, that this centenary is going to be commemorated in proper style and dignity in Wroclaw, Poland, 850 miles away, with a one day conference - Clinical Phage Therapy 2015. Sadly, up until now, Twort has always been rather a Cinderella in the miniscule world of microbiology. We can transform all that on Saturday 26th September.

Here is the official website for Clinical Phage Therapy 2015: - detailing the conference programme and speakers, registration, abstracts, and details of the venue and contacts.  Registration is free!
As a special guest, I shall be delighted to attend and present a 5 minute talk with some of my rare Twort photos and happy news of events this year when I have been able to easily spread the word about phage therapy.

Now I shall risk giving the game away: and for some very quick special effects to bring it all bang up to date, I have some marching band music playing Colonel Bogey, plus a video clip of a drone flying over a fabulous fairytale castle just 50 miles from Wroclaw Glowny railway station, which Winston Churchill visited way back in 1906 when it was still called Breslau. So I think that might be rather fun and I do think Dr FW Twort would have approved. (Incidentally, Twort once put butter on the railway tracks and watched the steam train skidding back down the hill again by his local station - naughty!)

My photo: Marching band playing Colonel Bogey to 1000 Churchill Fellows, at Blenheim Palace, 2015
                                                            (click link for the music)

Friday, 3 April 2015

Reigate woman meets the Queen - picture

Reigate resident attends Queen’s reception at Buckingham Palace, to mark the 50th anniversary of The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust

Grace Filby, a Churchill Fellow of 2007 from Reigate, Surrey, attended a reception at Buckingham Palace, hosted by Her Majesty The Queen on 18th March.
Her Majesty The Queen, who is patron of The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, hosted the event to mark its 50th anniversary as Sir Winston’s living legacy.
Since 1965, over 5000 British citizens have been awarded Churchill Fellowships, from over 100,000 applicants, to travel overseas to study areas of topical and personal interest. The knowledge and innovative ideas they bring back are shared, for the benefit of their profession, their community, and, in lots of cases, the nation. For many people, a Churchill Fellowship proves transformational, and they go on to achieve great things - effecting positive change within society.
Grace went on her Fellowship in 2007 to the Former Soviet Union (Republic of Georgia) and Poland, as well as the USA and Canada to investigate the health value of bacteriophages.

As she explained in the commemorative booklet, phages are natural waterborne viruses that attack bacteria. Whilst their application is still obscure in the UK, Grace affirms that phage therapy has great potential in the fight against antibiotic resistance.
She says “the Anniversary Reception was an exciting and unforgettable event, with so many amazing people to meet and chat to about their Fellowships and what they have achieved since. As time rushed by, I suddenly realised I hadn’t yet been to meet our host, Her Majesty the Queen. Luckily I was whisked in to be presented to her and the Duke of Edinburgh, with the advantage of not even having to stand in line, so not a minute was wasted! Just one or two people knew that I had, all the while, brought a couple of tiny vials of phage medicine from the Former Soviet Union in my bag, for the sake of posterity. They are perfectly harmless. Considering it is exactly 100 years since phages were discovered by a Surrey microbiologist, I thought it was about time they got some official recognition in the UK.”

245 Fellows from every decade since 1965 represented the Trust at the reception, as well as representatives from The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust in Australia, and the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States.
To mark its semi centennial, The Trust has just awarded a record number of 150 Travelling Fellowships – investing at least £1.3m in British citizens. This year’s Fellows will travel to 58 countries between them, across six continents, where they will carry out a wide range of projects. The average length of a Fellowship is 6 weeks.
Many events are being held throughout the year to celebrate Sir Winston’s life and legacy.
“We were delighted and honoured that the Queen hosted a reception to mark our anniversary year. Sir Winston’s legacy lives on through our Fellows – individuals who, like him, have vision, leadership, a passion with a purpose, and a commitment to help their fellow citizens” says Jamie Balfour, Director General of The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.
For an official photograph of Grace speaking with the Queen go to:

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Monty's birthday bash in Redhill

17th November was a special date in the calendar for my Churchill's Secret Reigate talk at St.Paul's, Redhill - the event also attracted several volunteer stewards from Chartwell.

This time I started off with topical news - firstly a letter from Reigate and Banstead Borough Council thanking me for my street name suggestions, and to confirm that the new residential road off Linkfield Lane will be named to commemorate Churchill's connection with this area, to be ready by June 2012. (I was told on the phone that it will be called Churchill Close. Monty doesn't get a streetname because Montgomery is too long a name - well at least he has a legend for evermore with Monty's Secret Hideout, up on the hill.)

The second bit of news was that it was actually General Montomery's birthday that very day - he was born on 17th November, 124 years ago. Even more amazing was that it was actually on his birthday, in 1941 aged 48, that he was promoted to be head of South Eastern Command and he went immediately, that same day, to Reigate to set up his HQ. Coincidence or design? History in the making.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Reigate Cave Mystery - Lost stone

Have you seen this stone? Missing since 1st June 2011, last seen in Barons Caves, Reigate. There is a long tradition of guides explaining for visitors that it was used in medieval times as a way of summoning service from the castle servants upstairs.