Hermes' Wings

History, Writing and Personal Musings

The Island that Refused to Die

Malta-Masthead

Book in progress (November 2013-present)


Status (November 2017): Manuscript complete. 649 pages. Being proofed.
Above mast painting by Rowland Hilder, 1942

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Occupying a strategic place in the narrows of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta was a British Imperial island during the Second World War. It was a rocky aircraft carrier from where the British could launch attacks on Sicily, and its natural harbor allowed the Royal Navy to exercise dominion over the middle sea.

The Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, was determined to take the island for his own, and in June 1940, he had the men and the machines to do it. But he (and later the Germans) had badly underestimated the fighting spirit of islanders. Although out-manned and outgunned, Royal Air Force aircraft flown by British, Commonwealth and American pilots harried enemy attackers and Allied vessels based there wreaked havoc on German and Italian shipping. The Nazis responded by trying to blast Malta off the map and starving it into submission.

Besieged, the island hung on against the odds, kept alive through a tenuous and erratic supply line (vulnerable convoys sailing from Gibraltar and Alexandria), wielding massive influence on the battles raging in North Africa and sparking fierce naval clashes which gutted the Axis merchant fleets and scarred the Italian Regia Marina, that other Royal Navy. The phrase “naval battles of World War II” may conjure imagery of the Pacific, but more surface engagements were fought in the Mediterranean than in any other place during the war — 50, compared to 36 in the Pacific and 49 in the Atlantic.

Malta’s ordeal lasted for over 900 days (nearly two-and-a-half years) as her defenders fought a lonely, heroic campaign, a private little war against the might of two Axis militaries and paving the way for the Allied liberation of the Mediterranean.

Below follows some of the assorted art and graphics connected with this work. They’ll probably never be published in the way I intend anyway.

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Malta Map 1942

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A Paper Trail: My Work in Newspapers

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Talk about newspapers these days and people’s eyes seem to glaze over. Papers belong to the era of one’s grandfather, a bygone age when trees were felled, wood smashed into paper pulp and printed to carry day-old news. They are quaint, and their total extinction forestalled only through the bewildering, continued existence of the likes of the New York Times, the WSJ, The Guardian, Le Monde and all those venerable broadsheets which still shape national policies the world over.

In my incarnation as a journalist, I mostly describe myself as a newspaperman (new media man/person doesn’t sound right). But why would I attribute myself as being part of an archaic order that is being gradually hacked to oblivion by television and the internet? Back in 2007, when I was graduating from college in Texas, the national consensus of journalism was that it was dead as we knew it — in the form of newspapers and magazines anyway. Pundits proclaimed the rise of the citizen journalist, the neighborhood scribe who stalked the streets, taking to online forums to report on what he or she saw, replacing traditional reporting, and triggering the demise of the old order. These scribes, the pundits said, would give rise to Social Journalism — a transparent and community driven form of news gathering whose results would be bared online. And here I was with my newly minted BA in English Lit and Mass Comm facing a potential hostile population of one billion “citizen” journalists – the odds and economics of which sounded untenable and outright insane.

But what the pundits, with their prognostications failed to understand was that journalism is a trained profession, much like how lawyers are trained, albeit without the longevity of law school. Imagine if suddenly one day, the populace declared lawyers were obsolete, and proclaimed the rise of the citizen-lawyer? Well, we’ve all heard the one about the man who acted as his own counsel…

Print journalism is inherently a white collar profession, with an intricate, mental tool-set, but which over the last 25 years has been arguably eroded through the interference of media barons, incompetent publishers, corporate advertising, and quisling, piss-poor editorialists and pressure to “sex up” the news. At its core, print journalism seeks only to illuminate, explain and inform, at the cost of near anonymity. Nobody every really became famous merely working in papers, except for maybe Jimmy Breslin, Gay Talese and others whose names escape me… I rest my case. But mostly the work is intended to help create a more informed public and an electorate. The same can be achieved in new media, but newspapers are simply more tangible and vetted. When Edward Snowden decided to leak the NSA files to the world, there is a reason why he chose newspapers to leak to and not outlets like CNN, Fox, ABC, BuzzFeed or Vice. Newspapers carry an inherent legitimacy.

How then can I quantify a hypocritical part of my nature which sees to it that my primary source of quick news at home continues to comes from a free online portal? (The BBC World app or radio, with another 40% gleaned from Flipboard and the New York Times app). We convince ourselves that free news is good even if it happens to be inferior because all we need are the basic facts.

A case in the point is the BBC which partly uses a “robot,” an advanced algorithm to edit and format some of its stories. Which seems to explain many of the articles have regurgitated facts. They seem to have been written by a 10-year-old. Although the system has improved, there was a time when stories fail to ask and answer the most basic of questions. And if we can’t get our news for free, we fall back on self-proclaimed news outlets with grandiose titles and strange urls, and social media, that great echo chamber with its air of pseudo-authenticity and drivel. The end result is an entire generation of people who cannot tell the difference between reporting and propaganda, op-ed and news pieces, fact and hyperbole, press and prostitution.

Personal experience has also shown that there is nothing quite gets users of Flipboard into a frenzy of commentary and “likes” than a story highlighting female nudity. Not Trump, not Syria, or stories of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. There is something seriously wrong when a story about ten new ways to make a tofu burger gets 30 “likes” while a story on the CIA wikileaks gets just five. Pure digital news seems to perpetually condition and reflect the public’s aversion to serious news.

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Return of the Chindits, Part 1

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Operation “Thursday,” the second Chindit operation of World War II was an integral component of an Allied plan to liberate northern Burma from the Japanese. The campaign centered around the recapture of Myitkyina city. Among the attackers were four colorful forces – Stilwell’s Chinese, Merrill’s Marauders, Cochran’s Air Commandos and Wingate’s celebrated Chindits. Their war was meant to be short. Instead, they would be pitted to the point of destruction against an enemy renowned for his toughness and unwillingness to surrender.

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It was the night of March 5th, 1944, and first of the gliders touched down in the Burmese clearing.

Little more than a large dirt track in the jungle, the clearing had been chosen by the eccentric British Major-General Charles Orde Wingate as one of three landing zones for his division of “Special Forces” known as the Chindits. Codenamed Broadway, the site was originally intended to take gliders carrying Brigadier Joe Lentaigne’s 111th Brigade, but unforeseen problems with the another landing area had forced Wingate to divert Brigadier Michael Calvert’s 77th Brigade there.

As they labored over that bald strip of earth, tugged by noisy C-47 Dakotas, the sounds of snapping rope tore through the air as tow lines were discarded and the gliders began their descent in the brilliant moonlight. Quickly, the craft gathering speed, utterly silent save for the howling wind and the whimpers and oaths of their terrified human cargo. Each glider was an archetype of multinationalism. The pilots were Americans, the troops a mixture of Burmese, Nepali Gurkhas and Britons from the Midlands and the northwest.

One by one, the gliders swept down towards the dark earth, alighting — and sometimes striking the ground with an earsplitting crash that sent bits of undercarriage, wood and metal flying into the trees. As the gliders came to a stop, men spilled out – automatic weapons and rifles at ready. One of them was Lieutenant George Albert Cairns of the 1st Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment. The jungle loomed all around them, the noises of the night abruptly silent.

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Return of the Chindits, Part 2

Return of the Chindits, Part 3

A Novel Idea

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Concepts and characters for an as-of-yet, unnamed trilogy of novels.

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Characters
Several are deliberate homages. The rest are constructs.

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Ongoing Graphic Work

Ongoing-Work

When in charge of all world news at a daily newspaper, it occurred to me (eventually…and not all at once either) that the existing coverage relied on a preponderance of syndicated photos (to which our competitors also have access) and too little on creativity. The end result was that I took on the task of creating special news graphics whenever time permits – hardly a part of my job description. How they are received by the paper’s subscribers…I haven’t the foggiest, but the art has been satisfying. Below follow select efforts.

This post includes some earlier art for the magazine format, including one about UN peacekeeping operations in Africa in 2010. I have also included a guide map of the game world in FarCry 2, as I am big aficionado of the game, even though it is now dated. So scroll through and take a look.

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Avro Lancaster NE114, 166 Squadron Published in April 2016

A distasteful image this, I thought, having completed it after 25 hours of work. No, not art itself, but of what it represents – an Avro Lancaster of RAF Bomber Command in trademark livery. Although I had created dozens of similarly colored Lancasters over a decade ago – and proudly of having done so at the time – my perception towards that type of aircraft known as the bomber has changed. When I was a boy, my grandfather held a shotgun up and said, “this is an instrument for the taking of life.” It was a statement that failed to resonate against the smug exterior of youth. But the message eventually sunk in, years later. And so, if the gun is the instrument of a living being’s death, the bomber is an instrument of wholesale destruction.

The German historian I created this piece for expressed the hope that I had fun while working on it. No, I can’t especially claim that. It kept me indoors for too long when I could have been enjoying the spring weather outside, but his undertaking was noble – he wanted to cobble together the story of the men who flew NE114  – exploring their lives until they hurtled to their deaths in a blaze of fire and cordite in the skies over his hometown. I seized upon this aspect to bring NE114 to life, as if it were no longer a weapon of war, but an entity responsible for the human beings in its charge, a creature which ultimately succumbed to its own fragile mortality.

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Paris Attacks V3

Latest developments, Paris Attacks November 19, 2015

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Paris Attack Nov 13

The Paris attacks Published November 14, 2015

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Arras Train

Hollywood on rails — The Arras train incident Published August 23, 2015

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Experiments and Art

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FLAMENCA DANCERS
Watercolors, July 2016

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Frame-NZ-TreeNEW ZEALAND
Watercolors, July 2016

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RIVER TOWN, BRAZIL
Watercolors, July 2016

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BRISTOL BEAUFIGHTER, MEDITERRANEAN, 1942 (Left)
Ballpoint pen & pastels, 2015

BIGHI NAVAL HOSPITAL ELEVATOR, MALTA, 1940 (Right)
Ballpoint pen & pastels, 2015

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HMS EAGLE, MALTA, 1940
Ballpoint pen & pastels, 2015

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MOTHER & DAUGHTER: TWO GENERATIONS OF THE PEREZ FAMILY,
NORTH TEXAS

Ballpoint pen over photo matte paper, 2011

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