Headless Valley (2)

The Nahanni Valley is in the middle of nowhere in Canada’s Northwest Territories, some 300 miles or so west of Yellowknife. It is a very hostile region accessible only on foot, by boat or by floatplane. It’s very beautiful, though:

For many years there have been large numbers of tales told about fur trappers and gold prospectors going into the area, and then either disappearing without trace or being found dead minus their heads. All these decapitated bodies found within the Nahanni Valley have earned it the nickname “Valley of Headless Men”. You can read what I have already written about this region here.

In 1971, the intrepid explorer, traveller and writer, Ranulph Fiennes, aka “Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes” took a small expedition of soldiers from the Scots Greys to explore the region. Ranulph’s book is called “The Headless Valley” and contains a very perceptive account of the murders that gave it its name. Clearly, from his writings, the author seems to have discovered that a great many of the victims had quite simply not lost their heads. Here he is:

In 1926, Annie Laferte was lost in the bush. There was a sighting of her some time afterwards, by an Indian named Big Charley. She was climbing a nearby hill, almost naked, but was never seen again. Supposedly, she had lost her mind, rather than her entire head.

In 1927, the bones of “Yukon Fisher,” a man wanted by the RCMP, were found on Bennett Creek. They included the bones of his head. The anticipation of gold had claimed his life. Far too impatient, he had pushed on ahead of the main party and was never seen again.

In 1932, a prospector named Phil Powers was found dead by a Mountie patrol.  Constable Martin found his bones in a burnt down cottage  upstream of the mouth of the Flat River.  Powers lay on the remains of a bunk and had been laid out in the outline of a human being, as though he had been sleeping. The skull was there at the opposite ending to the footbones and a rifle was laid over the knees. So, not a lot of decapitation there, then!

In 1936, William Epier and Joseph Mulholland were trapping and prospecting when they disappeared up the Nahanni. A bush pilot called Dalziel (pronounced “Dee-Ell”) located their cabin on Glacier Lake. It was burnt down to the ground. He reported it to Constable Graham at Fort Liard. Here’s Glacier Lake:

In 1940, a prospector named Holmberg was found dead of no established cause.

In 1945, a miner from Ontario, whose name has not survived for definite, but who may well have been Ernest Savard, was found dead in his sleeping bag. His head had been ripped off and was never found. At last! The hint of a reason for the area to be called “The Valley of the Headless Men”.

Ranulph Fiennes was told by Brian Doke of Nahanni Butte, how…….

“His father-in-law, Mr Turner, had travelled up the Nahanni in 1953, to take some food to a man who lived upstream. He was a prospector or trapper or both and Mr Turner found him dead with his cabin burnt down around him. His head was firmly intact.”

In 1961, Alec Mieskonen, a gold prospector, was blown up by dynamite, despite his well-known fear of explosives. This was thought to be a case of suicide, despite Mieskonen’s deep seated fear that one day he would die through trying to use explosives. What a strange story!!

In the same year, 1961, two partners, Orville Webb and Tom Pappas, set off overland for Nahanni Butte since they were short of food, but they were never seen again.

In the 1961 quarterly magazine of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Constable Shaw said….

Of the deaths….there is one aspect common to all….fire of undetermined origin has often been a factor in each in some way or another.”

No mention there of heads being ripped off, then! And so many of the deaths reported to the RCMP did involve fire, a factor which may well exclude Bigfoot, who has never been known to use fire. And if it isn’t Bigfoot decapitating his victims, I simply don’t know whether there might be another predator which enjoys the challenge of pulling the heads off its victims so that it can eat them. On the other hand, so many TV nature programmes here in England will tell you that apex predators always go first for two extremely nutritious parts of the body.  Indeed, they are quite capable of leaving the rest if they are not particularly hungry. Those two best bits are the brain and the liver.

In 1962 Blake MacKenzie survived an aircraft crash but then disappeared completely.  He was a strong healthy man with an ample supply of food and was seen close to the river. He kept a diary and survived at least 42 days after the crash and was well and healthy. And then suddenly, MacKenzie’s  daily diary entries stopped, abruptly and inexplicably.

A second aircraft crashed in the Nahanni Valley in 1962. A prospector named Hudson was found dead by the plane. The other two occupants and the pilot were never found.

For many of these men, especially those who just disappeared, the best candidate as the killer will be the supposedly much more violent and much larger northern variety of Bigfoot. Hundreds of years ago, the First Nations people regularly fought wars with Bigfoot because of their violence and their cannibalism.

A gentleman called David Paulides (pronounced “Poor–Lid–Uss”, with the emphasis on the first syllable), has written a number of books about the many unexplained disappearances in the National Parks of the USA.  He has written quite a few of these “Missing 411” books and estimates that well over 1,600 people may disappear there every year. Paulides used to be a police officer. This link takes you to his website :

This is one of his many excellent books about disappearances in the North American national parks:

 

 

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Why no statue? (9)

Almroth Edward Wright was born on August 10th 1861 in Middleton Tyas, which is a small village near Richmond in the extremely picturesque countryside of North Yorkshire in England.

And here’s the village church, which dates back to the twelfth century:

Almroth’s family was of mixed Anglo-Irish and Swedish origin. His father was a rector in the Church of England but his mother was Ebba Johanna Dorothea Almroth, the daughter of Nils Wilhelm Almroth, who was a professor of chemistry in the Carolinska Medico-Surgical Institute and the Royal Artillery School in Stockholm. In later years he became the director of the Swedish Royal Mint.

Almroth does not seem to be particularly famous nowadays, but he changed the world. Even on the Wikipedia page for his village, though, he is not paid any real attention. The village’s “notable people” therefore, are listed as, in first place, the fraudster Sir Edmund Backhouse and his brother, the naval officer, Roger Backhouse. Then comes in third place, Lady Alicia Blackwood, and then Arthur Francis Pease. Then comes Almroth Wright and his brother, and finally Keith Hawkins, the poker player.

Almroth was a lot cleverer than any of those, though.

Almroth was, in actual fact, the man responsible for developing a system of inoculation against typhoid fever, a disease which, at the time, was killing literally millions of people across the world. In the late 1890s, he also pointed out to whoever cared to listen, that one day bacteria would develop a resistance to antibiotics and then we would really be in trouble. His other main idea was that preventive medicine was what doctors should really be aiming at developing. And lastly, in any spare time he had, he also managed to develop vaccines against enteric tuberculosis and pneumonia, the latter a disease which killed more people in England than any other at that time. Not for nothing was it called

“The Captain of the Men of Death”

In the 1890 census in the United States, 76,490 had died of it, a death rate per 100,000 of the population of 186.94.

Almroth graduated in 1882 from Trinity College, Dublin with first class honours in modern literature and modern languages. In 1883 he graduated in medicine, before studying and lecturing at Cambridge, London, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Marburg, and Straßburg as it then was. Back in England in 1891, he worked in the laboratories of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons and was then appointed Professor of Pathology at the Army Medical School in Netley, on the south coast of Hampshire in England.

Here is the hospital in black and white:And here it is in colour:

At Netley, he developed a method of immunising people against that mighty killer, typhoid fever. And then, in 1898, he went to India as a member of the Plague Commission and tested his vaccine on the 3,000 Indian soldiers who had all volunteered to try it out for him.

And it worked!

Not a single one of the vaccinated soldiers succumbed to the dreaded disease. And then, the vaccine was equally successful in the Boer War of 1899-1902, although a major mistake was made by continuing to make vaccination optional rather than compulsory.

There were 328,244 men in the British Army in the Boer War but sadly, only 14,626 men volunteered to be injected. None of that select group, though, were among the 57,684 cases of typhoid in South Africa or the 9,022 who died from the disease. Exactly as had been the case in India, the ones who had the vaccine all survived because of it.

Until Almroth came upon the scene, though, typhoid fever had always held the entire world in its grasp. It was a simple disease with lots of places to catch it. As Wikipedia says:

“Typhoid is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the fæces of an infected person”.

That scenario was easily arranged before a vaccine was developed.

In 430 BC in Greece, typhoid killed Pericles and a third of all Athenians. It killed off at least half of the inhabitants of the English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. Between 1607 and 1624 more than 6,000 of them perished and they may well have passed it to the rest, thereby eliminating the entire colony……

Typhoid went on to kill 80,000 soldiers in the American Civil War. And I have seen more than one source which said that in every war fought by British forces until the Boer War, more men were lost to typhoid than to the enemy.

Next time, we’ll look at the impact that Almroth’s vaccine had on the number of casualties in the British Empire forces in World War One. It’s giving nothing away to say that he prevented deaths from disease in unprecedented numbers.

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Headless Valley 1

The Nahanni Valley is in the middle of more or less nowhere in Canada’s Northwest Territories, some 300 miles or so west of Yellowknife. It is, however, unbelievably beautiful:

It is a very hostile region, much of it accessible only on foot, by boat or by floatplane. For well over a hundred years, there have been countless tales told about fur trappers and gold prospectors who went into the area, and then either disappeared without trace or were found minus their heads. And obviously dead.

One website, taken more or less at random from the many, states that

“Over the years, many unfortunate travellers and explorers have gone missing, or turned up dead and beheaded. The number of decapitated bodies found within Nahanni Valley have earned it the nickname “Valley of Headless Men”. 

The number of headless bodies found in the Nahanni Valley varies enormously from one website to another or from one book to another. It is usually quoted as between somewhere 30-50 deaths. Explanations vary. The chief suspects include the extremely naughty Naha tribe who are apparently extremely aggressive and extremely elusive and guard their land very jealously. Or perhaps it’s a different group of people, namely a race of hairy, cave-dwelling cannibals who are extremely aggressive and extremely hungry too. And don’t forget that legendary scary hominid who goes by the name of “Nuk-luk”, a Neanderthal-like creature, five feet tall with a long beard. He doesn’t wear any clothes. Here he is, in a very blurred photograph, thank goodness:

In first place in the long list of suspects, though, is the supposedly much more violent northern variety of Bigfoot, examples of which supposedly measuring up to twelve feet tall or even more are regularly claimed in this area. This is a perfect application of Bergmann’s Rule :

“According to Bergmann’s rule, the body size of vertebrates is closely related to the average ambient air temperature in the region in which the vertebrate lives, so organisms in warmer regions are typically smaller than members of the same species in colder regions.”

Given this colourful and perhaps rather horrific, background to the area, in 1971, the intrepid English explorer, traveller and writer, Ranulph Fiennes, aka “Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes” to give him his full name, took a small expedition of soldiers from the Royal Scots Greys to explore the Nahanni Valley. Ranulph’s book is called “The Headless Valley” and contains a very detailed account of the murders that have given the area its name (and his book its title). Clearly, from his writings, the author seems to have discovered that many of the victims had, quite simply, not lost their heads.

But first, from the internet, the famous tale of the McLeod brothers, who were mixed race, with one First Nation parent and one white:

 

“In 1908, after a lengthy search which had lasted two years, their brother Charley finally found the skeletons of Frank and Willie McLeod. Both men had been shot as they lay warm in their blankets, one either side the fire. They still had their heads. There was no sign of Weir, their partner, he was never seen again.”

I did find, though, in a rather more sensationalist book, an account which recorded the tale of the McLeod brothers as being found “reportedly decapitated”.  To be fair, though, there were some men on the list who did lack their heads:

” In 1916, a mounted policeman called Corporal Churchill found the headless skeleton of a prospector called Jorgensen up the Nahanni.”

Jorgenson evidently died a rather painful death, although one which had been particularly thoroughly carried out:

“a tough experienced woodsman, his remains were found by a log cabin near the Flat River’s confluence with the Nahanni. A loaded rifle close to the body, the cabin had been burnt down…. However heavy a sleeper Jorgensen would surely have woken up if the cabin had been on fire …..if he was still alive.”

And next, one with no head mentioned:

“In 1922, a prospector named John O’ Brien went up the Nahanni and never came back…”

The Nahanni Valley stories are good examples of how a rather shaky, iffy, perhaps somewhat gossipy piece of evidence can take on a life of its own. Granted, there may have been a small number of trappers and prospectors found minus their heads, but such a fate was certainly not what happened to every single person killed or disappeared in the Nahanni Valley, and there were certainly not thirty to fifty of them. More blood-soaked examples next time, when we will further examine that familiar old dilemna:

“Head or no Head?”

 

 

 

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Strathallan…………the lost air museum (2)

Last time we looked at just a few of the aircraft which my friend, Bill, and myself saw on our visit to Strathallan Air Museum, near Auchterader, in the mid-1970s. Strathallan, if you remember, was the aircraft museum which eventually went bankrupt and all of the aircraft were disposed of in one way or another. A look at the map shows why, in pre-motorway days, very few visitors came to see the aircraft:

One of the most easily identifiable aircraft at Strathallan  was their de Havilland Comet, the world’s first jet airliner, which made its maiden flight on July 27th 1949.

Here’s my photograph, taken with a plastic camera whose controls for light were “bright” and “dull” :

And here’s a de Havilland Comet, by a much better photographer, which I found on the internet. On second thoughts, though, perhaps that may be a model. If so, it’s a really good one :

Of course, it’s a model ! But what are the other articles on this 1950s table? Is that the pilot’s map?

The Strathallan Comet (XK655) was eventually broken up for scrap metal, and in 1995 its nose was sold to Gatwick Airport for display purposes on the Spectators Terrace. Not a fate I myself would care to share. Here it is:

On an internet forum I found “G-ORDY” who said that XK655 was built for BOAC as the first Comet Mark 2, G-AMXA. It was eventually converted into “a Comet 2R, an aircraft of electronic intelligence gathering (ELINT) configuration, by Marshalls of Cambridge, and flew with 51 Squadron from Wyton. The forward fuselage of XK655 is now in the Al Mahatta Museum, located at the old Sharjah airport, UAE, and is restored in BOAC colours.”

There was another de Havilland aircraft at Strathallan. This was a De Havilland DH-98 Mosquito TT35, “TT” standing for “target tug”. Here’s my photograph:

And here it is in a much better photograph which I found on the internet:

In the RAF, the Strathallan aircraft had a serial number of RS712 and had featured as one of the bombers in the film “633 Squadron” and the later film “Mosquito Squadron”. The aircraft is currently displayed at the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, in Wisconsin, as RS712 and EG-F, the aircraft flown by Group Captain P.C.Pickard during the attack on Amiens prison in 1944:

I have actually already written very briefly about the book featured above, in a post called “Books for Christmas 1”.  I said:

“A famous incident of the air war is investigated in this book by Jean-Pierre Ducellier. Its title is “The Amiens Raid: Secrets Revealed: The Truth Behind the Legend of Operation Jericho” and Ducellier has spent the majority of his adult life attempting to put the evidence together into a coherent whole. And his solution is not a lot like the official version.”

Here’s Strathallan’s Grumman Avenger, a TBM-3W2 of the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Koninklijke Marine. Here’s my photograph:

And here’s a much better photograph, of an Avenger in a much better state of repair:

When the museum closed, the Dutch aircraft went back to the USA and is now registered as N452HA at Hickory Air Museum, a private museum in North Carolina whose proud boast is that they never charge a penny for entrance.
The only other aircraft I can remember seeing at Strathallan was the RS3, built in 1945 at the Reid and Sigrist factory at Desford, some seven miles from Leicester:

It was designed as a small, twin engined trainer, although the RAF showed little interest. In 1948 it was adapted for prone-pilot experiments, with a lengthened, glazed nose, and a set of controls for another pilot who lay on his stomach. Here’s a better photograph from the internet:

The RS3 flew in this form in June 1951, and eventually went to the Institute of Aviation Medicine at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.

When I went to Strathallan, there may have been some other aircraft there which today, just over fifty years later, I have simply forgotten. It all depends on which year I went to the museum and in which year certain aircraft were sold off. The aircraft which I can no longer recall were an Avro Anson, an Avro Lancaster, a Supermarine Spitfire and a Westland Lysander. To be honest, had they been there during my visit, I do think I would probably have taken some  photographs.

This picture from the Internet was the closest I got to the ex-Strathallan Lancaster, KB976 and GB-BCOH. It is currently held at Polk City, Florida:

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What would you do ? (16) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

And here’s the blue box:

And the correct solution given on page 2 of the comic is:

If you can’t quite read it, it boils down to not walking across the bridge, but easing oneself gently down and lying full length on the central rope. This will distribute his weight much more evenly than through two boots. Then, he inches himself back the way he came, because he knows that the rope there is probably of a better standard. This way, he may reach the bank before the bridge gives up the ghost. If he doesn’t he will stand more chance of swinging or climbing to safety than if he had continued across the rotting rope.

Why didn’t I think of that?

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What would you do ? (16) The Puzzle

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication aimed, obviously, at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

The blue box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the blue box enlarged:

So……it’s a photographic safari and a deep, crocodile infested river must be crossed. Midway across, he realises that he is on an inadequate and primitive rope bridge. Indeed, suddenly, the rotting ropes begin to break apart, one strand after another. Death seems just seconds away. Is there anything he can do to save himself?

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Strathallan…………the lost air museum (1)

In the mid-1970s, Bill Brown, a friend of mine, and I used to spend time camping around Scotland, the Land of Mountains, Mist and Midges. For the most part, we explored the wild west coast, but one year, probably 1975, on our return home, we stopped at a place called Strathallan, on the eastern side of Scotland, to visit the air museum there. No digital cameras then. At RAF Cosford in 2011 I took 854 photographs. At Strathallan, in around 1975, with 16 shots on each rather expensive roll of film, I took 11 photographs. Strathallan is quite a remote place. Look for the orange arrow, resplendent in his kilt:    

 I didn’t realise at the time that Strathallan was well on the way to having to close, because of financial pressures. As somebody said, it was too remote from any large city and hardly anybody could be bothered to visit it. And back then, the motorway north of Edinburgh, the M90, simply did not exist.

That said, I was happy enough with the museum and I took photographs of the majority of the aircraft. Whether there were any more aircraft that I did not think were worth the cost of a photograph, I do not know. I can’t remember any more. That fact, to me, is plain scary. What percentage of our lives have we totally forgotten? 50%? 70%? 90%?

My favourite exhibit was their very colourful Avro Shackleton T4. The Shackleton was the last of the Manchester-Lancaster-Lincoln-Shackleton line and was used for maritime reconnaissance. I have clear memories of them flying over our house in South Derbyshire in the early 1960s. Presumably, they were following a Severn-Trent shortcut.

Here’s my only photograph:

The stripes on some of the eight propellers are to stop you walking into them. Here’s a photograph taken by a proper photographer. I found it on the internet:

As far as the Avro Shackleton is concerned, the British and the South African Air Force were the only countries to use it.

Here it is in even stripier hue. This particular aircraft was operated by the South African Air Force.

My Dad once saw a man walk accidentally into the propeller of a Lancaster. It affected him for the rest of his life, I always thought. He only ever spoke of it to me once.

Strathallan’s Shackleton was broken up eventually, although its nose is now in the Midland Air Museum in Coventry. Not how I envisage my own eventual fate.

The museum had a Lockheed Hudson, an America  light bomber and coastal reconnaissance aircraft, primarily operated by the RAF. It was a military conversion of the Lockheed Super Electra airliner, and the first ever large contract for Lockheed. Here’s the Model 14 Super Electra:

 

And here’s the Lockheed Hudson at Strathallan:

I would meet this aircraft again at Hendon and take three photographs of it, rather than just the one:

The kangaroo is the obvious link between the two encounters:

Next time, we’ll continue this mini-tour around the lost aircraft of Strathallan.

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Mrs Bowman-Hart, the first woman teacher at Nottingham High School

As far as I can ascertain, Mrs Bowman-Hart was the very first woman ever to be employed by Nottingham High School as a teacher. That means that there had been a longish wait of at least 370 years between Dame Agnes Mellors and the High School’s presumed foundation in 1513, and Mrs Bowman-Hart beginning her fourteen year career at the school. Mrs Bowman-Hart seems to have worked there from 1883-1897, years which fell partly within the headmastership of Dr Robert Dixon. Before he became Headmaster, Dr Dixon had worked as Karl Marx’s body double in several racy films about the rise of the proletariat:

Dr Dixon left in July 1884 and was succeeded by Dr James Gow, a man who, when he was offered the job, had never taught boys in his life. His strong point, though, was that he was extremely clever, having finished third best classicist at Cambridge University in 1875, winning the Chancellor’s Classical Medal :

Here is the staff photograph of 1884 with Dr Dixon, the Headmaster, and Mrs Bowman-Hart, sitting next to each other in the centre:

Dr Robert Dixon had had enormous problems during his tenure of office from 1868–1884. Builders were constantly present in the school, often rectifying major faults in the new building. Dr Dixon clearly suffered from anxiety and depression because of these problems, but things deteriorated even further after the death of his wife, which left him with five young children to look after. School standards fell and soon Nottingham’s other schools were gleefully welcoming former High School pupils. They included High Pavement, People’s College and Queen’s Walk School, which would one day be renamed “Mundella”.

In January 1884, though, in his termly report, Dr Dixon was actually able to report to the Governors that better results had now been achieved in Languages and Mathematics. Furthermore, they were better results than at any time in the past sixteen years. Science had also improved, and there was much praise for Mrs Bowman-Hart who was now coming in to teach singing in music classes. The latter were extremely popular because boys could participate enthusiastically in the lessons, rather than just sit there and listen.

Mrs Bowman-Hart was the sister of John Farmer, who had been the Music Master at the famous Harrow School from 1862-1885. He was responsible for writing the music of the Harrow School song “Forty Years On”, the lyrics being written by Edward Ernest Bowen. John Farmer was a popular teacher at Harrow, although for some unknown reason he was always nicknamed “Sweaty John”. After his years at Harrow, Farmer seems have become a Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford.

Here’s Mrs Bowman-Hart next to the Headmaster in the staff photograph above. It’s just slightly enlarged:

It was presumably because of these Harrow connections that Mrs Bowman-Hart had the High School boys singing what were originally Harrow songs, such as “Forty years on”. This latter song was for many years afterwards to be regarded as the High School song.

Its words were exceptionally stirring, especially the chorus…

Forty years on, when afar and asunder,

Parted are those who are singing today,

When you look back and forgetfully wonder,

What you were like in your work and your play,

Then, it may be, there will often come o’er you

Glimpses of notes like the catch of a song;

Visions of boyhood shall float then before you,

Echoes of dreamland shall bear then along.

Chorus

Follow up; Follow up ; Follow up ; Follow up ; Follow up ;

Till the field ring again and again

With the tramp of the twenty two men

Follow up; Follow up;

There were two more verses, and much chorusing of the refrain “Follow up ; Follow up”. Ironically, the best recording I could find on Youtube came from Camberwell Grammar School:

It remains quite a turgid dirge though, and, as a school song, sounds far too much to me like a bunch of Englishmen trying vainly to outdo the Welsh rugby crowd singing “Land of my Fathers”.

Mrs Bowman-Hart lived in Shakespeare Street, or “Shakspere Street” as it was called when she lived there. Her house was in Angelo Terrace and was No 16. Angelo Terrace seems to have included Nos 12, 14, 16, 16½, 18 and 20. Nowadays, Age UK is No 12 and “Bard House” has been built on all of the houses from No 14 to No 22, so the majority of Angelo Terrace has disappeared. Mrs Bowman-Hart’s house therefore, is somewhere underneath “Bard House”, the building on the left with the two people walking past it:

At No 16, Mrs Bowman-Hart ran the Nottingham Branch of the “Harrow Music School” and held the rank of “Principal” there. In addition, at 7.30 pm every Saturday evening, the High School Musical Society used to meet at No 16. Entry was free to all past and present members of the school.

On Tuesday, February 26th 1889, the High School’s new Debating Society held its first ever meeting and the Headmaster, Dr James Gow, was elected President. For the first few years, the society held many more musical evenings, or “soirées”, than actual debates, including, for example, Mrs Bowman-Hart’s class singing “Holiday on the Rhine”. These events formed an important part of the school’s social life at the time.

One final detail about this energetic woman is that she was the person who founded the Nottingham College of Music, in 1863. Operating under the aegis of Harold Edwin Gibbs of 26 Regent Street, by 1900, it had more than two hundred pupils. Mr Gibbs was to become the Chief Music Master at the High School from 1897-1901.

In 1875 Mrs Bowman-Hart and others, along with Henrietta Carey and her sisters had founded “The Nottingham Town and County Social Guild” whose aim was the “social betterment of the common people”. And quite right, too!

What a true Victorian! No task was too large to be attempted, whether it involved an association to get the working class to wash more frequently or held competitions for the cleanest homes or even the prettiest window flower boxes.

And if you think that you have heard Mrs Bowman-Hart’s name somewhere, but can’t place it, it could be because she endowed a High School prize for singing for many, many years after her death. You have probably heard her name read out aloud on Speech Day and thought to yourself “I wonder who that is?”

 

 

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Keith Doncaster’s Poem

This is Mr Hardwick, who spent a large part of his time at the High School as the form master of 2A. In this photograph he is some twenty years older than when he plays a small part in this particular story:

In 1936, Keith Doncaster was with Mr Hardwick in Second Form A. Aged only twelve, he was honoured by having a short poem featured in the School Magazine, the Nottinghamian. It was entitled “Poetry” and this is how it went:

Poetry

I’m not a Poet

And I know it.

The next line will take some time.

Now I’ve started,

All thoughts have parted

From my head,

So now I think I’ll go to bed.”

Still a young boy and now thirteen years old, Keith had a second poem which was featured in the Nottinghamian. It was called “Gathering Shells” and he wrote it when he was in Third Form A with Mr Beeby in 1937. Here’s Mr Beeby, in the middle of the group:

This is, in actual fact, an enlargement of a staff photograph taken in 1946, just twelve months after the end of the war. Mr Beeby, late Scholar of Jesus College, Cambridge, was one of a small group of High School teachers who joined up to fight for his country. Like Keith Doncaster, he joined the RAF where he became a War Substantive Flying Officer, which meant that as long as the conflict lasted he held that rank. In the RAF he served in the Signals Unit of the Technical Branch This may possibly have been Radio Countermeasures and Jamming as well as Direction Finding. Flying Officer Beeby may even have been working in Electronic Warfare but he would have been instructed never to say a word about any of this top secret stuff to anybody. And he would have kept that faith for the rest of his life.

As soon as I read Keith’s second poem, I realised what poetry he might have written had he lived, and that, even if he did not realise it himself, he had inadvertently foretold his own premature death:

Gathering Shells

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

The poem summarises, in nine lines, the lives all humans lead. We pursue happiness, we like our pleasures, each one of us, we run along our own silvery beach, gathering coloured shells, objects which are attractive and pretty but ultimately of little or no value on the cosmic scale. We are just the same now, eighty years later. Short lived creatures who enjoy the sand and the sun and the shells, which we consider to be highly important and worthy of our attention. But ultimately, they are of little or no value whatsoever.  The only things which are important are the distant bells, because they call us, one day, to our doom. But we choose to ignore them, and just to run along the silvery beach for a little while longer.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

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Filed under Bomber Command, History, military, Nottingham, Personal, Writing

The Sandiacre Screw Company (11)

Let’s recap this sad, sad, tale. And I’ve also found out one or two important new facts, and I’ve found a good number of new details. So don’t just dismiss it. Take a walk 80 years back into the past…..

Ivan Keith Doncaster was born on October 17th 1923. His mother was Evelyn Mary Fell before she got married. His father was Raymond Doncaster, an engineer. Ray’s father was Sir Robert Doncaster, the founder and owner of the Sandiacre Screw Company, a huge firm, the enormous size of whose premises on Sandiacre’s Bradley Street reflected perfectly the size of the business:

Sir Robert arrived in Sandiacre, a small town of some 9,000 inhabitants, around the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1899 he was living at “The Grange” on Derby Road and by 1912, he was living at “The Chestnuts” on the same road. (Or, he had just changed the name of his house.)

Ray and Evelyn Doncaster, Keith’s parents, lived at “Shenstone” in Longmoor Lane which is just one section of an extremely long road which runs north to south,  across the middle of the town. It begins as Ilkeston Road, then Lenton Street, then Longmoor Lane as it passes under Brian Clough Way and then finally Petersham Road.  In the 1930s, houses in Longmoor Lane were so infrequent that house numbers were not necessary. The address given to the High School for young Keith, in 1933, therefore, did not include a house number. Just “Shenstone” would suffice. The house was actually the modern No 108, to the south of Brian Clough Way, almost on the brow of the hill as you travel southwards. And this detached house, set back from the road, is absolutely enormous. It was originally built for the founder of the family firm, Sir Robert Doncaster, and was set in its own grounds, with mature trees and lots of space in every direction. It is currently pebble dashed completely white and must contain many very large and lovely rooms. One quite fascinating detail that I found out was that the house’s garage has its own minor place in history. Protected by hundreds of sandbags, it operated as one of the ARP centres for nearby Sandiacre. The ARP (Air Raid Precautions) was set up in 1937 as an organisation to protect the civil population from the worst effects of the inevitable terror bombing by the Luftwaffe. This is the house:

Ray Doncaster, Keith’s father, served in the army during the First World War. When he returned home in 1919, Ray became Assistant Works Manager of his father’s company. In due course, he was promoted to Works Manager, eventually replacing his father as Managing Director. He retired during the 1960s. It does not take a fortune teller to work out that, had he lived, Ray Doncaster’s only son, Ivan Keith Doncaster, would himself eventually have succeeded to that position. Instead, Keith did not come back from his war and the company eventually just disappeared. How many hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs were lost when young Sergeant Doncaster’s Lancaster was shot down? Today, the area which was occupied by the Sandiacre Screw Company is easily traceable. It is the brownish area on this modern map, with Longmoor Lane to the west and the railway tracks to the right. The Orange Arrow marks the spot:

Nowadays, this area is home to an almost uncountable number of modern industrial units, small workshops,  places where a large lorry can be loaded, places where a large lorry can be unloaded,  places to have a broken windscreen replaced, places to rent storage space, places where they carry out autorepairs, distribution centres and supermarkets. But it’s a dead place:

Just here and there, occasionally, a vehicle drives past, a car drives into one of the unit’s car parks. A van sets off to deliver car parts to Bingham. A fork lift truck driver shouts a greeting across to his friend in a lorry. It is a huge area but it certainly does not support anywhere near the huge number of people that used to work for the Doncaster family:

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Here and there a few red brick buildings remain. And the occasional red brick wall:

They are all that is left of the Sandiacre Screw Company nowadays. Just one German bullet had such a huge effect. Initially on one 20 year old mid-upper gunner. And then the ripples spread wider, and affected a whole family. Then they touched on a whole factory and its workforce of so many hundreds of workers in a distant English town. And thirty years or so after that Lancaster plunged to earth, the workforce found they had no work, and ultimately, they had no factory.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, military, Nottingham