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Author Topic: 2 fingers to the French?
susan_kerry
Deck the Malls


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Reagrding the use of " offensive finger gestures."

We were always told that it was from English Bowmen who triumphantly waved their fingers at the French, thus proving that they hadn't be captured and multilated.

http://www.snopes.com/language/apocryph/pluckyew.htm

( Snopes response to the humourous article )

Here are some points to consider.

The battle of Agincourt was just one battle in the Hundred Years War, which actually lasted over 100 years. So its possible that this gesture comes from around the time rather than the battle itself.

Snopes argues that the concept of cutting off fingers was illgocal (see above.) In responce to that here are some points.


But lets consider the actual idea- Would it be likely that soldiers would multialte the enemy?

Snopes correctly points out that bowmen couldn't be ransomned. But suppose the situation DID arise where they had captive bowmen. What would they do?
What if the English had surrendered on mass?

Well, we know there is no ransom. But to simply KILL them all? Would soliders and French nobles be willing and happy to do that? Perhaps or perhaps not. There is evidence that after the Battle of Towton prisoners were executed. But in some ways cutting off fingers would be a much less bloody (and in many ways easier) option. After all it would probably be the ordinary French troops, and not the aloof nobles that would have carried out the execution.


Also cutting off fingers WOULD be an effective way of ruining their fighting ability. Whilst they had some limited value as foot soldiers with melee weapons, it was as BOWMEN that they were feared and deadly.


(Part 2)

Equally importantly is the fact that the gesture comes from a THREAT that fingers might be cut off. The whle point of the gesture is that it hasn't happened (at least to the soldier doing it.) It remains possible that:

A) The French made such a threat and never carried it out. (Quite possibly because of their lack of success)

B) The French never made such a threat, but the English belived they had done so (or perhaps English propaganda had spread this myth). As such the English gesture might be a reaction to a SUPPOSED threat.


Finally at WHOM was this gesture directed? Would the English ever be in a position to directly insult enemny soldiers in this way? I doubt it. But they WOULD have come into contact with French civilians, whom they taunted with this gesture. It remains a possibility that this gesture "came home with them" and found its way into common usage as an insult.


As a PS, the gesture is TWO fingers. The single raised middle finger ( I have always believed) is an american version of the English gesture.

[ 29. November 2005, 04:37 AM:   snopes ]

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snopes
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quote:
Snopes correctly points out that bowmen couldn't be ransomned. But suppose the situation DID arise where they had captive bowmen.
But they wouldn't. Since bowmen were too low in the social order to bring a ransom, there was no real point in going to the effort of capturing them. You can't "accidentally" take someone prisoner.

quote:
What if the English had surrendered on mass?
Not every surrender is necessarily accepted. It's not like there was a Geneva Convention around in Medieval times to require that warring parties treat every surrendered soldier humanely.

Some relevant quotes from the Agincourt section of John Keegan's The Face of Battle:

"A surrendered enemy, to be put hors de combat, had to be escorted off the field, a
waste of time and manpower..."

"There was no reputation to be won in fighting archers."

"Many [French noblemen] had made their surrender; some had not had it accepted..."

- snopes

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Troberg
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The way I've had it explained to me was that the logic behind the threat goes something like this:

"We will not just kill you. We will destroy your life by making you unable to draw a bow again, thus making you are helpless slaves."

If the French actually planned to go through with it or not is not important, it was mindgames and it obviously worked, although in a backfiring kind of way.

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/Troberg

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susan_kerry
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I think it's important to make a distinction between official "prisoners/surrenders" and the reality of warfare in the middle ages.
In the middle ages there was certainly no concept of a "prisoner of war" . Indeed, in the legal system there wasn't really a concept of imprisonment as a punishment. As Snopes correctly points out the only people taken prioners were those worth ransoming.

But there still remains an issue here. After many battles there would be survivors of the defeated army- demoralised, wounded perhaps and exhaused. And as such the victorious army would need to do SOMETHING.

They could, of course, simply ignore them or let them go free, but there are many examples of other reactions:

A recent archiologcal dig discovered evidence that after the battle of Towton in the late 15th century soldiers were executed after they had been stripped of their weapons and thier hands tied behind their backs.

A famous picture shows Richard I watching the beheadings of prisoners taken at Acre in 1171.

After the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 the Victorious Saxon allowed the defeated Vikings to leave on their boats- beaten and broken they were no longer a threat.

After the Battle of Poltava (Russia under Peter the great) [actually after the middle ages slightly] Victorious troops cut off their enemies penises. (nasty!)


It is well worth pointing out the in the middle ages punishments for crimes really consisted of 2 punishments- multilation or death.

As such it is quite logical that a soldier could expect some form of mulitation (or worse) following defeat in a battle.

Whilst the NOBILITY may well have ignored the foot soliders it is quite possible that ordinary soldiers may well have carried out some "justice" on their enemies.

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snopes
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quote:
After many battles there would be survivors of the defeated army- demoralised, wounded perhaps and exhaused. And as such the victorious army would need to do SOMETHING.
Yes -- kill them, or leave them to die.

quote:
Whilst the NOBILITY may well have ignored the foot soliders it is quite possible that ordinary soldiers may well have carried out some "justice" on their enemies.
Nope. If they were worth something, they were spared; if not, they were killed.

Again, from Keegan's section on Agincourt:

"... there had been a good deal of killing, principally by the archers, of those too poor or too badly hurt to be worth keeping captive ... The chroniclers record that the killers spared the most valuable prisoners ... prisoners being not the King's or the army's but the vassals of those who had accepted their surrender."

- snopes

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Michael Cole
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quote:
Originally posted by susan_kerry:
Reagrding the use of " offensive finger gestures."
Also cutting off fingers WOULD be an effective way of ruining their fighting ability. Whilst they had some limited value as foot soldiers with melee weapons, it was as BOWMEN that they were feared and deadly.

One minor point - according to more recent information, the English bowmen weren't all that deadly against the French armoured knight - their arrows could not pierce their armour. Contrary to popular belief, the French were actually destroyed by: -
Terrain - the battleground acted as a funnel.
Weather and ground - riding horses and fighting on farmland after a heavy rain turned the ground into a quagmire
Lack of Crowd Control - Lots and lots of armoured horsemen into a limited battlefront don't go, and the French nobility weren't content to wait their turn.

Effectively, the French destroyed themselves, and a fair proportion of them actually drowned in the mud. Those that were killed by the English bowmen were mostly killed by hand when they were on the ground.

--------------------
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A. The Used Car Salesman knows when he is lying.

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The Fourth Man
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quote:
Originally posted by susan_kerry:
As a PS, the gesture is TWO fingers. The single raised middle finger ( I have always believed) is an american version of the English gesture.

While it is true that the English gesture uses both the index and middle fingers and the American gesture the single middle finger, it is the latter that is used worldwide.

The Fourth "speaking from experience of football crowds [Wink] " Man

--------------------
If you keep trying, you'll eventually succeed. Therefore, the more you fail, the higher your chances of success.
-- Jacques Rouxel, 1931-2004 RIP :(

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susan_kerry
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With regard to Snopes:

The quotation you give is actually refering to what the ENGLISH did to the FRENCH , and it only refers to one particular battle. Henry V (the Engish leader) had actually shown how brutal and ruthless he could be. His level of brutality during the War was actually the exception, rather than the rule.

We can simply not say with certainty what the French would have done had they won. As such a fear of multialtion may well have been in the English minds. How the French would have treated the English remains a debatable point.


Whilst there is indeed a STRONG CHANCE that the English may have been killed (being worthless,) it is equally possible that some multiation may have been performed. It was certainly not unheard of.

To give another example- after the battle of Naseby the Welsh wives of the defeated Royalist forces had their noses split- a sign to mark them as prostitutes. This random and arbitray act was carried out by victorious Roundhead troops. It remains a possibity that French troops may have done something similar.

As I said originally the Battle of Agincourt was only one battle in a war that lasted over 100 years! It was simply not the case that after EVERY battle the victorious forces would " kill them, or leave them to die ." The vast majority of battles in the Middle ages did not end in massacre (although some did.)


Furthermore the whole legend actually centres on the BELIEF that the French would cut off English fingers. As cold, logical historians we can sit back and say "that wouldn't happen" but would an English soldier take that view????????

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Ulkomaalainen
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While it is possible that a soldier mutilated a beaten opponent that was otherwise to go free, and it is not completely to be ruled out (though in my opinion highly improbable) that it may have been in above mentioned way for above mentioned reason, there is nothing to indicate that this would have been "official" treatment or widespread enough to be a reason to start some gesture. It would have recorded thoroughly as a treatment for beaten bowmen as well as a gesture.
quote:
As cold, logical historians we can sit back and say "that wouldn't happen" but would an English soldier take that view?
Actually I don't get this sentence.

Ulkomaalainen

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susan_kerry
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To explain the sentence that Ulkomaalainen didn't get.


Imagine you are a contemporary English soldier, preparing to fight. Is is certainly possible that RUMOURS could have spread around the camp that the french cut off fingers. The mind of a nervous and scared soldier is not always a rational thing. Multiation (and branding) was a common punishment in the Middle Ages- it was actually used against French soldiers-turned-bandits known as the " routiers ." It is reasonable to say that an English soldier would fear some fate at the hands of his enemy were he to be defeated.


The "two finger gesture" stems from a BELIEF that the French would cut off fingers.

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Joostik
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quote:
Originally posted by susan_kerry:
Imagine you are a contemporary English soldier, preparing to fight. Is is certainly possible that RUMOURS could have spread around the camp that the french cut off fingers. [...] It is reasonable to say that an English soldier would fear some fate at the hands of his enemy were he to be defeated.

Like being killed perhaps? They would be lucky if they only got their fingers cut off -- nay, just two of them!
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Andrew of Ware, England
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Recently 'The Fortean Times' investigated this 'myth'. They said that it cannot be proved or disproved as neither English nor French chroniclers mention it.

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Andrew, Ware, England

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Steve
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quote:
Originally posted by The Fourth Man:
quote:
Originally posted by susan_kerry:
As a PS, the gesture is TWO fingers. The single raised middle finger ( I have always believed) is an american version of the English gesture.

While it is true that the English gesture uses both the index and middle fingers and the American gesture the single middle finger, it is the latter that is used worldwide.

The Fourth "speaking from experience of football crowds [Wink] " Man

But is it really an American gesture? As far as I can tell from a quick google search, it dates back at least to Aristophanes.
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The Fourth Man
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quote:
Originally posted by Steve:
But is it really an American gesture?

Probably not. What I meant is, "the version of this gesture used in America is also used in just about every country except England". I don't know the origin of the gesture.

The Fourth "hope I made more sense this time" Man

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If you keep trying, you'll eventually succeed. Therefore, the more you fail, the higher your chances of success.
-- Jacques Rouxel, 1931-2004 RIP :(

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susan_kerry
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I was under the (rather vauge) impression that many countries had their own gesture. For example in Greece raising 5 fingers is considered offensive. Also the " horns " gesture, like heavy metal fans do, is apparantly offensive in some country (Anyone see the HSBC advert a few years ago?)

Winston Churchill reversed it into a "victory" sign.


Also I have found out something else- John Laffin's book " Tommy Atkins- The Story of the English soldier (written in 1966) talks about the "professionalisation " of the English "New Model" army during the time of Cromwell (mid 17th century) which included severe punishments for:

" Offensive hand gestures "

This of course proves nothing more than the fact that the soliders were liable to make hand gestures! Give that Cromwell was a strict Puritan it could well be that these gestures were sexual in nature (indeed- they could be 100 things.)

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Troberg
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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Actually, it was Chamberlain, not Churchill, who made the "victory" sign.

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/Troberg

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Jay Tea
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quote:
Originally posted by Troberg:
Actually, it was Chamberlain, not Churchill, who made the "victory" sign.

He did? I recall him waving paper and being a naive fool but it's certainly Churchill who is synonymous in my mind with his V for Victory...?

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Richard W
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quote:
Originally posted by The Fourth Man:
What I meant is, "the version of this gesture used in America is also used in just about every country except England".

It's actually used in England too - it's just a separate gesture from the two-finger salute.

I don't know whether the two gestures are related in terms of "gesture evolution" or not. I would be happy to believe that it was recently (re-?)introduced from America.

(eta) Thinking about it, it has to be of some significance that the Battle of Agincourt was long before the American colonies were founded, though. (Before the continent was discovered, even.)

Why DON'T Americans use the two-finger salute? Did English colonists use it at one point but get swamped by people from elsewhere using the single-finger salute? Did the gesture change in America for some reason and get re-introduced to England as the single-finger salute? Did it change in England from a single finger to two fingers? Were there regional differences in England that were reflected in the origin of the colonists? Did both gestures exist in England before the colonies were founded?

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Shadowduck
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quote:
Originally posted by Troberg:
Actually, it was Chamberlain, not Churchill, who made the "victory" sign.

You may possibly be right (in the sense of Chamberlain being the first to do it), but it's mostly associated with Churchill.

He didn't always reverse it, either!

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But of course, I could be wrong.

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Steve
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quote:
Originally posted by Richard W:

Why DON'T Americans use the two-finger salute? Did English colonists use it at one point but get swamped by people from elsewhere using the single-finger salute? Did the gesture change in America for some reason and get re-introduced to England as the single-finger salute? Did it change in England from a single finger to two fingers? Were there regional differences in England that were reflected in the origin of the colonists? Did both gestures exist in England before the colonies were founded?

Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. Is the two finger salute found in any other of England's former colonies?
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Troberg
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Nope, it was Chamberlain who did it when exiting the plane after a meeting with Hitler, at the same time he said the now infamous comment "At last there will be peace in our time!".

Boy, was he wrong...

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/Troberg

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Stoneage Dinosaur
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quote:
Originally posted by Steve:
quote:
Originally posted by Richard W:

Why DON'T Americans use the two-finger salute? Did English colonists use it at one point but get swamped by people from elsewhere using the single-finger salute? Did the gesture change in America for some reason and get re-introduced to England as the single-finger salute? Did it change in England from a single finger to two fingers? Were there regional differences in England that were reflected in the origin of the colonists? Did both gestures exist in England before the colonies were founded?

Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. Is the two finger salute found in any other of England's former colonies?
according to wikipedia "The UK insulting version (performed with the palm inwards), performs a similar social function to "the finger". It is almost certainly unrelated in origin, as the insulting V sign is largely restricted to the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and Spain, where it is popular amoung taxi drivers in Madrid. "The finger" is also traceable to Roman times. The insulting V sign is not widely recognized in the United States, with the notable exception of fans of British punk music."

(Note the link back to Snopes)

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Floater
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Desmond Morris once wrote about the two finger gesture that he had no idea how it got to be that way as Englishmen do not, like kangaroos, have two penises.

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Små hönor skall inte lägga stora ägg för då blir de slarviga i ändan

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Mistletoey Chloe
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Welshmen, on the other hand... [Wink] (although in fairness they are joined end to end)

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~~Ai am in mai prrrrrraime!~~

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Richard W
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Who's that wrinkly person masquerading as Chloe? Oh, whoops...

Happy Birthday!

(edit) Should probably have put this in the other thread for Happy Birthday messages but it had temporarily vanished when I looked.

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Mistletoey Chloe
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Your name and quip have been duly noted...

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~~Ai am in mai prrrrrraime!~~

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Zachary Fizz
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Torberg said:
quote:
Nope, it was Chamberlain who did it when exiting the plane after a meeting with Hitler, at the same time he said the now infamous comment "At last there will be peace in our time!".

Do you have a cite for that? I always understood him to have said "I have in my hand, a piece of paper..." and to have held up said piece of paper, not two fingers.
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Shadowduck
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quote:
Originally posted by Zachary al Fizz:
I always understood him to have said "I have in my hand, a piece of paper..." and to have held up said piece of paper, not two fingers.

Kind of like this.

quote:
"We, the German Führer and Chancellor, and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for our two countries and for Europe. We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe."

Chamberlain read the above statement in front of 10 Downing St. and said:
"My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time...
Go home and get a nice quiet sleep."

I've always felt kind of sorry for poor old Neville. [Frown]

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But of course, I could be wrong.

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Richard W
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I think he waved the piece of paper, too. I've seen the film of him getting off the plane. (Did it blow away, or did I imagine that?)

quote:
Upon returning to Britain, while getting off the plane, Chamberlain waved the joint statement signed by Hitler and read it out loud to the officials who had come to welcome him. He again waved that piece of paper from the window of his residence at No. 10 Downing Street and said, "This is the second time in our history that we brought back honor and peace to Downing Street. I believe this is peace in our era."
This site appears to have the relevant video clip, but you need a subscription to view it.
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Jay Tea
The "Was on Sale" Song


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I recall watching that clip over and over and I don't remember any v-sign, just him walking off the airplane with his hat in his hand and then making his infamous speech and waving his paper about in the wind...the clip is on britishpathe.com too but it confused me and I ran away.

 -

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This is where I come up with something right? Something really clever...

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Richard W
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Hey, there's evidence there for the origin of smileys too!
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Troberg
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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I think the V sign was made as he stepped out of the aircraft, not when he made the speech.

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/Troberg

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Jay Tea
The "Was on Sale" Song


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I can find a lot of pics that show Chamberlain stepping out of the aircraft but none of him making a v-sign, and there are only three steps - anybody find a watchable clip of this historic moment?

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This is where I come up with something right? Something really clever...

Posts: 6552 | From: UK | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Doc J.
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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Having problems downloading the footage from the Pathe site, but I have to agree with Jay here. I must have seen that footage dozens of times, and I have no recollection of any V-sign. If you check the phot stills he has a briefcase* in on hand and the other hand holding the rail/doorframe as he exits the plane, so any sort of hand gesture would be difficult.

*On close inspection, it's actually a hat.

Posts: 3100 | From: London, UK | Registered: Nov 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Troberg
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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I'm sure I've seen it, but of course that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm not wrong. What made it stick in my head was the irony of exiting that plane making a victory sign and talking about peace in our time, when that meeting in fact contributed to the biggest war ever.

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/Troberg

Posts: 4360 | From: Borlänge, Sweden | Registered: Nov 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
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