The US State with a Union Jack in its flag, the war in which we didn’t fight but grew vegetables and other weird episodes from British Imperial history

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As everyone in the UK knows there was once a time when the Union Jack flew in many, many places across the world.

Now, a website about style, football and gadgets isn’t really a  place for too many value judgements on the British Empire. Suffice to say that we did some good things, but we also inflicted an awful lot of damage too in subjugating, and occasionally wiping out indigenous communities. Also the repercussions of the lines on the map that Britons drew lingers on in The Middle East, South America, parts of Africa and closer to home in Ireland.

However one hugely astonishing thing about the British is the way in which people of this sea-faring nation have been just about everywhere in the globe.

It was a thought that last year inspired historian Stuart Laycock to pen a fascinating book called All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded. It is safe to say that the list that hasn’t had any British influence is a pretty short one and includes The Vatican, Monaco, Chad, Mongolia and Paraguay among others. Britain has in fact invaded nearly 90% of the countries in the world, so it isn’t that surprising that in some parts of the world we don’t have the best of reputations.

Questions about the nature of British Imperialism aside the book does throw up some amazing anecdotes about places that have been influenced by the British that almost no one in this country has a clue about.

For example what about the US state that has a Union Jack as part of its flag? Or the German island which we ran as a major holiday destination for much of the nineteenth century? Or the Scandinavian country that we kind of ‘invaded’ so we could use one of its islands as a vegetable patch.

Here then are ten really great stories. Some are  inspired by the book , which if you love history really is a must purchase. I have also done some of research of my own and of course there are a couple of nods to Wikipedia, from whence many of the images came.

So without further ado let’s head for Heligoland.

Buy the book here.

1 Heligoland

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An island in the middle of the North Sea that apparently is a bit like Scarborough! Doesn't make any sense does it, but until near the end of 19th century we used to own an island not far off the coast of Germany called Heligoland. Until 1807 it was owned by Denmark, but we decided it would make a good little naval base during the Napoleonic War era and so annexed it. When peace arrived we did the decent thing and turned the little island into a holiday centre where it attracted not just Brits but also German artists, politicians and also anarchists and revolutionaries. It remained under our control until the end of the nineteenth century when we traded it with Germany for the slightly larger land mass of Zanzibar. We returned during WW2 largely on bombing raids designed to hit German ships. After the war we turned the uninhabited part of the islands into a bombing range, something that not surprisingly still rankles with some of the locals.These days it has gone back to being a holiday resort. Visitors take the ferry from Hamburg and then chill out on the tiny island. There's no private cars, or even bikes, so to get around you have to walk or use a scooter. Sounds like a fascinating place.