Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (1)

One of the world’s most bewitching aircraft is the Sunderland flying boat. When I was a boy, I never did save up enough pocket money for the Airfix kit, although it was only fifty pence or so in the 1960s. I should have bought it then, though. They’re fifty pounds now!

The Short S.25 Sunderland was a flying boat patrol bomber operated not just by RAF Coastal Command but also by the RAAF, the RCAF, the SAAF, the RNoAF and the Marinha Portuguesa. The last one’s a bit of a give away, but did you get all of the rest? This one’s Australian:

The Sunderland was designed and built by Short Brothers of Belfast, and the cynic inside me says that it was the only decent aircraft of their own that they made during the war. This model of the aircraft was numbered the S.25 because it was a warplane but it was a direct descendant of the S.23 Empire flying boat, the flagship of Imperial Airways. Here it is, a beautiful aircraft:

The new aircraft S25 was very well designed for its purpose. The Sunderland had a wingspan of 112 feet, a length of 85 feet and a height of 32 feet. It was a big aeroplane! Even the stabilising floats on the wings were as big as a rowing boat or a small plane. Compare one of them with the man with a pram, and the Walrus behind them both:

A Sunderland had four Bristol Pegasus XVIII nine-cylinder radial engines which gave it a total of 4,260 horse power:

And those powerful Pegasus engines gave it a range of around 1800 miles at a cruising speed of 178 mph Don’t fly too fast when you’re doing maritime reconnaissance!

The S 25 Sunderland featured a hull even more aerodynamic and more advanced than that of the S23. You can see why it’s called a “Flying Boat”:

Here’s lengthways:

Here’s the nose end of that hull:

Weapons included machine guns in front and rear turrets. The front turret had rather weak 0.303 guns which could not always penetrate thick metal, but at least I got a good shot of it:

I even got a good shot of the three jokers who seemed to be making off with the plane from the Hendon museum, trying to push it backwards through the very large French windows:

Here’s some close-ups for the wanted posters:

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I didn’t get any good photographs of the rear turret but it had heavier 0.50 calibre machine guns. You can just about spot it among the bits of other aircraft. It’s slightly right of centre:

There was also a heavy machine gun firing from each of the beam hatches. You can just about see one poking out here:

The Sunderland made extensive use of bombs, aerial mines, and depth charges. Here are four which have been winched out ready to drop. Hopefully, they are dummies:

Here they are in close up.

The Vickers Wellington’s immensely  powerful Leigh Lights, designed to light up U-boats on the surface at night, were rarely, if ever, fitted to Sunderlands.

Next time, a look inside the mighty Sunderland.

 

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The place where I grew up (1)

I grew up in a small village called Woodville, just to the south of Derby, in more or less the centre of England. Cue The Orange Arrow:

The village had around 4,000 inhabitants who worked for the most part in the local industry, which was digging up the local clay and using it to make water pipes, sewage pipes and the like.

Originally, the village was called Wooden Box, because five roads met in the centre, and the man who collected the tolls from the travellers on those five roads lived in a large wooden box the size of a small house. The place where he stopped the traffic therefore became known as the Tollgate. Nowadays, it is a roundabout.

Here is the High Street shortly after the end of World War Two:

It was quite grim when the snows of 1947 began to get a little grimy:

Over a series of blog posts, I would like to show you what Woodville was like when I was a little boy in the late fifties and early sixties, and what all those places are like now.

In the 1950s, the shops of Woodville were vastly different from what they are nowadays. At the top of Hartshorne Road, where I lived, was the Co-op butcher’s, with its decorated ceramic tiles, where meat was displayed on a big white slab behind a huge plate glass window. Here are some of the ceramic tiles:

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Inside was the counter with a wooden chopping block at the side. The butcher wore a striped blue and white apron, soiled with smears of old blood. He was, like all butchers, a Smart Alec, who fancied his chances with the women and was always over familiar with them.

Here’s the butcher’s shop today. It’s derelict:

Higher up, on the corner of the roundabout was a large shop called the Co-op. In the picture below, it’s on the right:

Margaret who worked in the Co-op was my mother’s particular friend. Here’s the shop today. It’s derelict too:

On the opposite side of the road was what had been the old Police Station. Here it is, in the centre of  a very old postcard:

The County Library was to move into the derelict police station around 1960. The story was told locally that four special garages were constructed to house the mobile library vehicles, but that the people in charge forgot to measure the huge vans’ lengths, so that they eventually stuck out of their garage by some  three or four feet and it was impossible to close the doors of the new buildings.

Around this time, the same location also housed the local Civil Defence, who had a large and enormously loud siren next to the building’s chimney. It was a frightening machine which could be sounded should “Our Friends the Soviets” ever launch a nuclear attack on Woodville. In the early 1960s, I well remember the threatening and haunting sound of this siren curling around the walls of the houses on, thank goodness, just one occasion per month, possibly the first Sunday, when testing was allowed to occur if my memory serves me well. Here’s the police station pretending to be a library:

Over the road from the Police Station was a ramshackle, black, wooden garage where cars were repaired and petrol was sold, BP, if I remember correctly. Further along this road towards Burton on Trent, on the left hand side stood a garage which sold Cleveland Driscoll petrol, and which was unstinting in the way in which it gave away primarily purple coloured advertising lapel badges to small boys.

Here’s the garage today. It’s derelict, with weeds growing in front of it:

The roundabout was called the Toll Gate, and it had a third garage, which sold, again if I am not mistaken, Regent petrol. It was called the Clock Garage and here it is today, repainted and restored:

Next time we’ll look at my old school and the house where my Dad was born.

 

 

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Filed under History, My House, Personal, Politics

Hedgecoe and Bamford : the Final Chapter

Last year, on February 7th, I published a post called “Hedgecoe and Bamford : Death in the Night”.

The post was about two young heroes of 151 Squadron who were flying a Mosquito night fighter of No. 85 Squadron over Kent, during the night of March 24th-25th 1944. The pilot was Flying Officer Edward Richard Hedgecoe (34) and the radar operator was Flight Lieutenant Norman Llewellyn Bamford (25). They were both experienced marksmen, with Hedgecoe having claimed eight victims and Bamford taking part in the destruction of ten enemy machines:

I described the rather quirky events of that night when they found an apparent Junkers Ju 188,

The rather infrequently encountered German aircraft was weaving violently from side to side. They approached to within a hundred yards and then let it have a burst of cannon fire. What happened next is in my blog post from February 7th 2018.

The rest of my blog post then concerned the eventual deaths of Messrs Hedgecoe and Bamford, the final fate of whom I could merely make a best guess at. They perished on January 1st 1945 but I quite simply did not know the circumstances.

I was delighted, therefore, some nineteen months later, to receive a comment about the eventual fate of the two men. The comment came from Denis Sharp.

Denis provided a very long and detailed account of the two airmen, so good in fact that I thought it ought to be better showcased than the ordinary run-of-the-mill comment.

Please be aware therefore, that these are not my words but a recent reply to an old blog post of mine from Denis Sharp:

“The loss of this aircraft from former RAF Hunsdon is well known to myself, as an historian for the airfield I can give you this small additional piece of the story.
In its heyday it was a Mosquito night fighter station, many famous squadrons were based here from 1941 to 1945, and one of the RAF’s most famous low level attacks took place from this deserted abandoned airfield. This was the low level attack on the German run prison at Amiens in France in February 1944, one of the most charismatic airmen of that period, Group Captain P.E Pickard lost his life along with his navigator Flt Lt Alan Broadley on that raid, also lost was Flt Lt Dick Sampson, the navigator from a second aircraft that was also bought down.

Let’s go back over seventy years to the 31st of December 1944, two replacement Mosquito aircrew reported for duty with 151 Squadron at this airfield. Squadron Leader Edward Hedgecoe DFC and Bar, and his Navigator Flying Officer Norman Llewellyn Bamford DFC and Bar. Both were both posted in from the Fighter Interception Unit where they had been resting from operational combat sorties. At the FIU they had helped train inexperienced night fighter aircrew as well as developing tactics and equipment. They were sent to join 151 Squadron at Hunsdon as replacements, both were both very experienced airmen who had each earned the DFC and Bar in combat prior to joining the FIU from 85 Squadron some months earlier.

On New Year’s Day, Monday the 1st January 1945, Squadron Leader Hedgecoe and Flying Officer Bamford found themselves on the duty roster for operations that night, a mere two days after arriving at Hunsdon. 151 Squadron were a Mosquito night fighter squadron and regularly flew patrols over German held territory on the continent in an effort to shoot down German night bombers and Luftwaffe night fighters that were taking a toll of RAF heavy bombers.

Sometime in the early afternoon on the 1st January 1945, the pair climbed into their Mosquito, a Mk30 NF bearing the serial number NT253, to carry out a routine air test prior to further rest before flying later that night. The test was to establish if all the aircraft’s systems were working correctly, after the flight the acceptance form ‘700’ would be signed by the pilot and the aircraft would be then fit for operations, the fuel tanks would be topped off and all would be ready for the pair to use when their allotted time for flight arrived later that night.

The weather that day was not that good but flying had been cleared and aircraft had been allotted to cover various Night fighter and Intruder operations to Luftwaffe airfields on the Continent. The wind was from the south west and Hedgecoe and Bamford set off on the secondary runway for their twenty minute test flight that involved a circuit or two of the airfield before making their approach to the northern end of the same runway. While on this approach and at a height of about 300ft, the Mosquito stalled a wing, a known trait of the aircraft at low airspeed, and spun into the ground just 450 yards short of the concrete runway. Being fully loaded with fuel and made of wood, the Mosquito burned fiercely. Both Squadron Leader Hedgecoe and Flying Officer Bamford died in the wreckage.”

So now, thanks to Denis Sharp, we know the last, sad, part of the story.

If you want to hear more from Denis, here is the link to his website .

Here’s a Mosquito crash  site today:

 

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On holiday with Ross Poldark (3)

Last time I was showing you more of the attractions at Botallack, in West Penwith, in western Cornwall:

I introduced the Crowns Mines which I called:

“the most photogenic industrial location in Cornwall.”

From the base of the stone chimney, a long sweeping path descends the cliff face. It goes down towards the Crowns Mines:

Their position is so dramatic that it attracts film crews like bees to honey. Here is a slightly different shot which includes what looks to me like the silhouette of Pan and below that, to the right, a number of faces in the rock. At least two gannets are visible flying past as just two white dots. Notice too, the croquet lawn right in the middle of the photograph:

There must be quite a few people who are frightened by the path, which is wide and flat with a substantial fence made largely of rust. To your left, there is a very, very long way to fall on to the sharp rocks below . If you do fall, though, make sure that you look to the right as views are tremendous.

These mines had tunnels which stretched under the ocean for several miles, allegedly. Equally allegedly, the miners could always hear the noise of the waves above their heads.

As you walk down, the two mines gradually grow closer. If I remember correctly, you can go safely into the right hand structure:

But the left hand tower is a very definite “No-No”. Or at least, you’ve got a very large queue of kamikaze pilots to contend with.
Still, it’s a wonderful location. The ocean is so blue and it is transparent enough for the rock platform underneath the waves to show up. Gannets are still passing by . There is one to the right of the right hand tower, just where the wall meets the ground. Again, if I remember correctly, it is impossible to climb to the top of this tower, although a door lets you in to see a very limited part of the ground floor.

This is the best shot I could get of the left hand tower.

The National Trust says that the tunnels went out under the sea just 450 yards (very roughly 450 metres), and reached 1600 feet under the seabed, an amazing depth if you think about it (very roughly 487.68 metres).

Here is a comparison of the two mines then and now. If you look very carefully, you can see a lot of similarities but many differences, some of them the effects of a hundred years’ plus of Atlantic storms:

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The path leading back up to the main group of ruins is quite steep but you’re not going to get lost with such a landmark to guide you:

How long it must have taken to quarry the stones to build this impressive edifice! It’s certainly lasted a lot longer than the men whose toil and sweat erected it:

Back at the top, among the ruins, I found some intriguing graffiti. This first one could fire at least a couple of romcoms:

And this is a full length effort, vandalised by some moron, unfortunately:

My last memory of the place will be watching a couple of retired BBC planners (click on the picture to enlarge it, and they are on the cliff edge). They are working out the cost of a modern Poldark sequel starring Jeremy Corbin as Poldark’s charismatic youngest son and Vladimir Putin as George Warleggan:

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“Hilarity with Heraldry” (4)

Last time we were looking at the old badges of mainly football clubs in the late 1950s and early 1960s:

As well as coats of arms, animals, birds and flowers, some football clubs have a story behind their badge.

The English FA Cup Final was played from 1895 onwards near to the famous Crystal Palace Exhibition building. The owners of the latter attraction wanted other things for the tourist to do (or rather, to pay to do) and so a football team was formed. It was called, rather imaginatively, “Crystal Palace Football Club”:
Here’s the building and the badge:

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Heart of Midlothian was a team formed in Edinburgh by a group of dance loving friends from the Heart of Midlothian Quadrille Assembly Club. Midlothian is a Scottish county and the Heart of Midlothian is a heart-shaped mosaic in the pavement near St Giles Cathedral in the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. People spit on it for good luck, so don’t go too close if you visit it. The pavement can be treacherous:

Another Scottish club, Third Lanark, went out of business in 1967. They began as the football team of the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers on December 12th 1872. The soldiers were inspired by the first ever international match between England and Scotland just two weeks previously:

Three teams at least display the Moslem symbol of the crescent moon and star. There are many, many explanations offered for Portsmouth:

The rugby club Saracens supposedly adapted the emblem because of the “endurance, enthusiasm and perceived invincibility of Saladin’s desert warriors”. More likely is the fact that the other local team was already called the Crusaders:

The best story is that of Irish football team, Drogheda United. Around a million people perished in the Great Potato Famine in Ireland in 1847. The Ottoman Emperor, Sultan Abdülmecid I, sent three ships full of food to Drogheda and a gift of £10,000. This wonderful gesture was praised worldwide. Even Queen Victoria had sent only £2,000.

No problem about embarrassment for the Queen of Mean, though. The Ottoman Emperor was asked by the British Government to reduce his gift to £1,000 so that the impoverished Queen of England and Empress of India was not embarrassed by her own frugality.

The Sultan was not forgotten though, and the crescent and star went onto the city’s badge and in 1919, that of the football club:

In a Festival of Original Thought, a lot of badges are formed merely from initial letters. These here are the rather imaginative badges of Blackburn Rovers Supporters Club, Hartlepool United Football Club, Headingley Football Club (who play rugby), the Scottish team, Stranraer Football Club and Watford Football Club:

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When the letters are really seriously tangled, though, it gets a lot more difficult. Try sorting, one from another, “Edinburgh Academical Football Club” and “St Johnstone Football Club”, from Perth in Scotland. I have deliberately removed the name of one club:

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Three badges, I thought, were just plain strange. They were Bective Rangers, a rugby club from Dublin:

Second was Stockport County near Manchester. Does the shield have three diamonds on it? And why?

The last one is a Scottish club called Dunfermline Athletic. Ever since I glued it into my Tiger album of football club badges in 1961, it has haunted me. No idea why!

I checked in Wikipedia and I wasn’t far wrong

“The current Dunfermline Athletic badge was created in 1957 by Colin Dymock, an art teacher at Dunfermline High School. It was allegedly inspired by one of his nightmares. The tower is Malcolm Canmore’s Tower, adopted by the town of Dunfermline for its own coat of arms. Malcolm Canmore was King of Scotland from 1057-1093, and lived in what is now Pittencrieff Park. The park is represented by the stormy, ghostly blue and black night scene behind the tower, including the park’s infamous hanging tree. The green area represents the club’s stadium.”

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On holiday with Ross Poldark (2)

Last time I talked in very general terms about the main, and most obvious, sights at Botallack, a disused tin mine in Cornwall:

First, there is the enormous stone chimney, to power the pumps that maintain low water levels in the mine:

And then there is something which I have never managed to fathom out. It looks rather like Cornwall’s attempt at Peru’s Nazca lines, but constructed with stone and concrete:

In among them were two Georgian missile silos, their “Hanover” ICBMs targeted on Napoléon’s distant boudoir. Spot the photographer, by the way:

Walk a little further on to the south and there is a view of  the winding gear, the top bits of a more modern chimney, and a ruined wall. And what a sky! :

Keep walking and there is a view back towards the car park. The metal winding gear has not been used for a long time, perhaps as far back as 1900.

Again, everywhere there are ruined buildings, all of them in local stone:

At least one of the forgotten buildings was an arsenic-refining works. In areas of volcanic rock where tin and copper are mined, some nasty substances may always  be encountered such as arsenic, cadmium, lithium and even uranium.
I suspect that perhaps, over the years, the local builders and farmers have been helping themselves to many of the pre-cut stone blocks for their own walls and/or barn building or perhaps even as the hard core for country roads.

If you turn round and walk past the big stone chimney:

You can then continue for fifty or a hundred yards, until you get to the “abandoned mine engine of Wheal Owles”:

That particular disused mine is frequently used in Poldark episodes when the work force is filmed  actually working the mine. I have walked over to the Wheal Owles on just one occasion but I didn’t take any photographs. To be honest there are so many of this type of ruined pump house in this part of West Cornwall that the old adage “Seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all” comes into play.

This is the view straight ahead of the bench towards the north. There is another large ruined building and then what looks like the stump of a demolished chimney nearer to the tip of the headland.

Here’s that same view looking slightly more northwards;

You can just see the reason why the BBC people chose this site. It’s at the bottom left of the photograph above, and it’s one of the Crowns mines, the most photogenic industrial location in Cornwall and its second most photographed tourist site after the Men-an-Tol:

We’ll walk down to see  the Crowns mines next time.

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Renegade Football at the High School (6)

Last time I was talking about renegade football teams which originated in the High School. Even before the change to rugby in 1914-1915, we have at least one photograph in the School Archives of what appears to be an unidentified team with an unidentified member of staff. It may well be that in an era when the High School played football officially, there were still those who wanted to be renegades, playing under a false name at the bottom end of League Division Three.:

Once football disappeared at the end of December 1914, that was it. No going back. School sport was crushed under the weight of a thick layer of gravel and tarmac called “Rugby Union”. But before long, thistles started to grow through. After January 1915, the High School might not allow any boy to play football in a school context, other than kickabouts in the school yard, but there were always at least eleven rebels, totally dedicated to football, willing to dig an escape tunnel to the nearest football pitch.  This may well be the first mystery photograph of a football team from the early part of rugby years:

Here is number two in the series of renegade High School teams. It dates from the years immediately after the Second World War. Here is the team photograph:

It looks like they are kitted out in white shirts, black shirts and, probably, red socks. Here is their badge, Photoshopped quite a bit:

And now a little bit more:

When I started I thought that the badge was an “N” and a “U” entwined but now I’m not so sure. Does anybody have any ideas about it? Any information about this team or indeed, any of the others, would be welcome in the Comments section.

Back to the original photograph. Who is the man behind the team, as it were? I don’t recognise him as a member of staff. Perhaps he was the father of one of the players:

The photograph is captioned on the back:

“An unofficial football team. The Headmaster, Mr Reynolds, didn’t approve of soccer and wouldn’t allow an official team. A group of 6th formers formed this team as “Nottingham United” and played behind the West Bridgford Tennis Club on Wilford Lane”.

A final act of rebellion came in the late 195os according to JA Dixon (1951-1960) who has written:

” While in Lower 5G,  I was also playing with a rebel soccer team,  Kingswood Methodists of Wollaton with a whole host of School ‘rebels’, including  Dick Lovell, Rob Spray, Graham Machin, Mick Hutson. Charlie Graham, Rob Wilson, Keith Richardson, Alan Scott, many of whom ended up being School Prefects!”

There is one final photograph that I have come across, although I do not really think that it is a renegade football team so much as a question, perhaps, of misidentification.  We have a Junior School section of the High School, known years ago as the “Preparatory School” or quite simply the “Prep”. It has always educated boys below the age of eleven. A friend of mine who used to work there, Mr Eddie Jones, sent me a photograph he had taken of an old photograph that they had. It had always thought that the photograph showed a cup-winning team from some long ago forgotten competition in the City of Nottingham, but I am not so sure. Here it is:

There are quite lot of problems. The football is marked “1898-1899” whereas the current understanding is that the Prep School did not come into being until September 1905 when it was:

“…set up in a house at 11, Waverley Mount where Dr Dixon had lived so many years before.  There were thirty two pupils, making up a senior form taught initially by Mr R.Dark and then soon afterwards by Mr H.A.Leggett.  Two ladies taught the other form, one of whom “lived in”, acting as a housekeeper as well as a teacher.”

The two members of staff on the photograph, Messrs JA Jones and D Stephenson are not on any staff list we currently use, and none of the named players are on the School Register, as far as I can see. The boys’ names are:

(back row) L Jones, F Palmer and W Harwood.  On the front row are  G Bramwell, T Rees, L Kirk, SJ Shaw, JF Bamforth,  E Wright (Captain),  N Dass,  F Bramley and  D Richards.

I do wonder who this team may be. In the late Victorian era, the High School did not ever play in stripes of this Notts County type, but wore all black kit with white sleeves. I wonder if the mystery team are anything to do with Notts County?

Nowadays, of course, football is open to any boy in the Sixth Form with no restrictions whatsoever. What happy times we had:

“What larks, Pip! What larks!”

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Filed under Football, History, Nottingham, The High School