“We have been trekking hard all these last days. Heat and dust terrible… We got in a wood and were
surrounded by Germans. The Germans are very fond of wood fighting and
detail snipers to get up trees. We lost considerably including nine
officers.” Letter from Lt. Neville Woodroffe during the Mons Retreat, 1914.
Snipers can trace their lineage to hunters who began using rifled firearms that could fire accurately at longer rangers. In the North American colonies, settlers adapted the rifle to warfare, and riflemen were used as snipers by both sides during the American Revolutionary War, and by the British in the Napoleonic Wars. During the Second Boer War, Boer marksman with accurate Mauser rifles took a heavy toll on regular British forces. In response, the British formed the first professional unit of trained snipers, the Lovat Scouts, using telescopic rifles and wearing camouflage suits. Their commander said of them that they were “half wolf and half jackrabbit.“
A British officer shoots from a camouflaged position.
The trench warfare of the First World War suited the sniper perfectly. At the beginning of the war, sniping was an amateur affair, practiced mostly by officers used to hunting from before the war. Armed with personal hunting rifles, sharpshooters spent their spare time trying to pick off enemy soldiers. Only the Imperial German Army issued out telescopic sites, and soon the trained German snipers developed a fearsome reputation in the Entente armies.
In response, the British and French set about professionalizing their own marksmen. Big-game hunters like Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard worked hard to develop sniper tactics to counter the Germans. All armies set up training schools, and following in the Germans’ wake the British and French began issuing standard-issue scoped rifles. Optics underwent significant development; a major example was the “periscope” rifle that used sloped mirrors to allow soldiers to fire without revealing themselves above the trench parapet.
A British soldier at Gallipoli tries to lure Turkish snipers into firing; his friends don’t seem amused.
As snipers improved in quality, the danger they posed increased. Working in pairs, snipers were expected to memorize the layout of the land in front of them, noticing any subtle change. They wore camouflage and shot from disguised or armored positions to remain safe themselves while they watched for any sudden enemy movement. Even a man who exposed himself for a fraction of a second might become a casualty. The most valuable targets were officers, signalers trying to lay communication lines, and soldiers bringing up rations from field kitchens.
A camouflaged British marksman next to a fake tree he used as a platform.
The sniper war became a daily feature of life on the front line. Soldiers developed methods to cope. Robert Graves remembered being troubled by one particular German sniper, but he found a response: “Later we secured an elephant-gun that could send a bullet through enemy
loopholes and if we failed to locate the loop-hole of a persistent
sniper, we tried to dislodge him with a volley of rifle-grenades, or
even by ringing up the artillery.”
The randomness of death scared troops. It even created one superstition - never light a cigarette three times from the same match. “The sniper sees the first light, he hones in on the second, and when he sees the third he takes the shot.”
Anzac troops use a periscope rifle on Gallipoli.
Soldiers hated snipers and a captured one could expect no mercy. Nevertheless, sniping had a mental toll of its own. Some treated it like hunting, but others were disturbed by its oddly personal nature. R. A. Chell remembered feeling so during his first try at it:
“After about fifteen minutes quiet watching - with my rifle in a ready
position - I saw a capless bald head come up behind the plate. The day
was bright and clear and I hadn’t the slightest difficulty in taking a
most deliberate aim at the very centre of that bright and shiny plate -
but somehow I couldn’t press the trigger: to shoot such a ‘sitter’ so
deliberately in cold blood required more real courage than I possessed.
After a good look round he went down and I argued with myself about my
duty. My bald-headed opponent had been given a very sporting chance and
if he were fool enough to come up again I must shoot him unflinchingly. I
considered it my duty to be absolutely ready for that contingency.
After about two minutes he came up again with added boldness and I did
my duty. I had been a marksman before the war and so had no doubt about
the instantaneousness of that man’s death. I felt funny for days and the
shooting of another German at 'stand-to’ the next morning did nothing
to remove those horrid feelings I had.”
Pearson’s Magazine Jan-June 1898; among many other articles this volume contains the first appearance in print of Flaxman Low; credited as being the first psychic detective. This volume contains the first 6 [of a total of 13] ‘Real Ghost Stories’ created by British authors Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard and his mother Kate O'Brien Ryall Prichard, published under the pseudonyms “H. Heron” and “E. Heron”. Flaxman Low is actually a pseudonym for “one of the leading scientists of the” Victorian era, whose real name is not disclosed in the stories. He was an accomplished athlete in his youth and has turned his interests to a scientific study of the occult the stories in theis volume are as follows The Story of the Spaniards, Hammersmith (1898); Low is called in by an old friend to investigate a house haunted by a suffocating, bladder-like presence The Story of Medhans Lea (1898); Low investigates a house plagued by a child’s crying, and a sinister figure dressed in black with a horrifying laugh The Story of the Moor Road (1898); Low crosses paths with a sickly, coughing spirit which assaults travelers on the Moor Road The Story of Baelbrow (1898); When the ephemeral, harmless ghost of Baelbrow takes on a material, deadly form, Low risks his life to find an explanation. The Story of the Grey House: Low’s curiosity is piqued by the history of the Grey House, where numerous residents have been found mysteriously hanged, even though no rope is ever found The Story of Yand Manor House (1898); Low brings a friend, French philosopher Thierry, along on a curious case. The Yand House dining-room is possessed by a malevolent spirit which cannot be seen or heard: only felt and tasted Flaxman Low himself is a psychic detective of a pure Sherlock Holmes-ian style: he investigates and solves psychic mysteries with no tools other than his immense knowledge of supernatural phenomena and his keen powers of observation - “The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (2009) includes a short story by author Barbara Roden, “The Things That Shall Come Upon Them” which teams up Flaxman Low with Sherlock Holmes who together investigate a haunted house mystery
The full collection of stories was published in 1898/99 in Pearson’s Magazine and later in one volume in 1899 as The Experiences of Flaxman Low - the magazine however has 75 illustrations many more than were featured in single book which used only 12.
Murder on the Orient Express updates via Variety today:
Branagh and the cast (minus Depp and Pfeiffer) introduced 10-15 min of new and previously unseen “work-in-progress” footage in London today - the introduction of the central characters, the establishing of the murder, plus the epic vistas of snow-capped mountains, and the trailer again from WonderCon
The cast loved the camaraderie on set, there was a “wonderful company feel about it”. “What was very extraordinary was that we were all together. It wasn’t like a film where you all do
different bits. In this case we were all there all the time.”
For the train interior scenes they have an on-set railway carriage, with pre-recorded
background footage rolling in the windows. Branagh:
“I found myself going to the end of the train to watch the scenery go by
as if I was on a real train, and I wasn’t the only one. Quite a few of us got motion sickness.”
The production design is incredible.
Josh Gad (MacQueen):
“It was surreal. I just had the
opportunity to go on the real Orient Express, and the detail that the
production team brought is unreal, exquisite. It is so spot-on. For us that intimacy really lends itself to Ken’s vision. When
you’re in a confined environment, it creates a sense of unease, even if
you have nothing to hide.”
James Prichard, Agatha Christie’s great-grandson, said
securing Branagh to direct and star was “awe-inspiring.” “He gets the
grandeur of the work, and his vision as he first told it us made my hair
Branagh made a conscious decision to not watch the ‘74 movie version, and advised the cast to do the same:
“Our goal is to try and find a new approach. That’s why classic stories
are worth retelling.” He also said “there are some surprises.”
Along the journey from St. Louis to Roanoke, Norfolk and Western Y6a #2156 was able to greet an old friend; the coaling tower at Prichard, West Virginia. If these two relics could talk, they could have sat and chatted about progress for years.