Nina Potapova: a woman I cannot forget (1)

When I was about eight or nine, I was intrigued by a book in our local library in South Derbyshire:

Last year I bought a second hand copy off the Internet. A book from Bangor in north west Wales. Probably the very book used to learn Russian by the defector (or is he a defector?), Richard Burton, in “The Spy who came in from the Cold”. Still, at least I learned the Welsh for ‘stock’:

I was intrigued by the copperplate Russian alphabet. Here’s the first 16 letters. :

There are 33 altogether because our ‘ch’ or ‘sh’ or ‘ts’ are single letters in Russian. Here’s the full 33 from Wikicommie:

With Nina, I loved the artwork:

And here’s the text. It looks childish and moronic, but not if you’re in MI6. If you are in Moscow and ask the right person the question “Is the house there?” and they replied “Yes, the bridge is here.” you got to spend the night with Ursula Andress:

Here is Moscow. The Moscow Kremlin to be precise:

And here’s Leningrad. For me, some things will never change:

That’s all for now. I have people to meet in a park near Helsinki. Please excuse the uneven shapes of some of the pictures. They were taken under difficult circumstances, using a MasterSpy Mark 4 Nasal Camera in a small stoc cupboard in Bangor Library at 3.00 in the morning.

In ze meantime,    До свидания

 

 

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The Luckiest Man in the World (3)

In a previous post, I told in the barest of details how Jack Sweeney was killed in an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V when he took off from RAF Tilstock on January 31st 1944:

During my researches I found a video on the Internet, uploaded by someone called “1tothirtysix”, which is an interesting walk around the crash site and puts together all the various details to produce a coherent account of what occurred.

In March 1989, the land was still owned by the farmer at the time of the accident, Mr Challenor. He could remember coming to the crash site immediately after the impact, which took place around 8.30 in the morning. He found a sheet which obviously covered a body, and lifted it to see the blackened and burnt features of one of the aircrew. There was one survivor, Flight Sergeant Thomas Weightman who made his way along the hedge and then downwards to the mine which was operating then, although is now closed down. This is Foxfield Colliery which may be the mine referred to in the account. The tower like structure is modern:

Once Flight Sergeant Weightman told the miners the news, they raised the alarm, although it was far too late by now. Indeed, the three other crew members were already dead even as Weightman climbed out of the crashed aeroplane. The bomber had first hit high up on the hill, half way between the two woods near the mine. Having hit this field near a pond, the aircraft careered across it, then smashed through a hedge and skidded, nose first, down the very, very steep slope to the good sized stream at the bottom. The Whitley finally came to a stop, smashed to smithereens with its nose almost in the water. The three dead crew members were still on board and when fire broke out, the bodies were all burned to a greater or lesser extent. This is a crashed Whitley:

There were, of course, many, many crashes in this North Midlands area. The aircraft were extremely varied with 7 Wellingtons, 3 Whitleys, 2 Blenheims and 2 Halifaxes, but also 4 Thunderbolt P-47s, and single B-17s, Martin Baltimores, Fairey Battles and Armstrong Whitworth Albemarles. A majority of the aircraft were operated by either 27 OTU or 42 OTU. Here is an Albemarle:

And here is a Martin Baltimore, used widely in North Africa and very popular with its crews:

Jack Sweeney was killed in January 1944. A brief look at all the OTUs in Britain during this month  reveals that every single fatality listed came in Wellingtons, a sorry state of affairs…January 1st (1 dead), January 2nd (6 dead), 3rd (7), 4th (5), 9th (2), 11th (5), 17th (2), 20th (5), 21st (10), 23rd (6), 24th (3), 25th(6), 27th (16), 29th (4), 30th (7).

After leaving an OTU, the next step for everybody was an HCU, a Heavy Conversion Unit. Here, trainees tried their hand at four engined bombers, usually Stirlings and Halifaxes. The deaths in January 1944 were, in Halifaxes… January 3rd (7 dead), January 10th (7 dead), 13th (6), 18th (6), 21st (7), 22nd (3), 23rd (9) and the 31st (6). In Stirlings, it was January 4th (5 dead), 14th (8), 20th (14), 21st (2), 26th (8), 29th (8) and 31st (5).

Quite a toll. In the OTUs, in just one month in 1944, a total of 85 men died.

In the HCUs, a total of 51 died in Halifaxes and 50 in Stirlings.

Not that far short of 200 dead without ever seeing a German.

A couple of pictures will show you why so many were killed. Here is a crashed Halifax:

And here is a crashed Stirling:

After further research, I was also surprised to see that Dilhorne where Jack Sweeney crashed was pretty much the local “Magnet of Death”, surrounded by higher ground and relatively close to a number of OTU airfields.

On January 30th 1943, a Wellington, R1538 of 28 OTU, crashed there after leaving RAF Wymeswold near Loughborough. Sergeant Thomas Butterly from Portsmouth and Sergeant Allan Priest from Reading were killed. On March 27th 1953, a jet bomber crashed at Dilhorne. It was a Canberra WH669 of No 10 Squadron. This resulted in the death of the Pilot, Flying Officer Patrick Esmond Reeve, the Navigator / Plotter, Pilot Officer John Golden Woods and the Navigator / (Set Operator), Vivian Owen.

Here’s a Canberra:

Who died with Jack Sweeney?
Well, Flying Officer John Frederick Cusworth was the Navigator. He was the son of Harry Cusworth and Clara Cusworth, born in 1912 at North Bierley in the West Riding, 2 miles south east of Bradford. After a few years, the family moved to Pudsey, a market town now incorporated into the City of Leeds. John was 31 years of age and he was married to Grace Edna Bowen at Strood in Kent in 1940. The couple lived in Pudsey. John was cremated and his sacrifice is commemorated at Leeds (Lawnswood) Crematorium along with 73 others. His name is just visible on this side of the special column:

Sergeant George Victor Bourne was the Bomb Aimer. He was the son of Albert Ernest Bourne and Maude Penelope Bourne from East Ham in the London Borough of Newham. East Ham is right next to West Ham. George was only 21. Did he go to the football? Did he shout “Up the ‘ammers!!” every fortnight? Like John Cusworth, he would have had a strong accent. Did they joke to each other about the way they talked? George was buried close to the airfield, at Whitchurch, a small town in Shropshire near the Welsh border. There are 14 other Commonwealth casualties buried there, but also 52 Poles and Czechs because the No 4 Polish General Hospital was at Iscoyal Park, four miles to the west. This is the West Ham United badge:

Andrew Harkes Robertson was the Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner. He was 30 years old. He was the son of George Robertson and Lizzie Robertson from Edinburgh. Andrew was buried in Inveresk Parish Churchyard. Inveresk is a small village in East Lothian to the south of Musselburgh. It is so pretty that it has been a conservation area for the last 50 years or so. There are 72 casualties buried in the churchyard at St.Michael’s Church. Here it is:


Flight Sergeant Thomas Weightman, as we have seen, survived his crash. I will tell you about him next time. He is the man who has given me the title of this series of blog posts. You will find out exactly why next time.

I could not have written these posts without help from here and here and here.

 

 

 

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A Barbarous Kingdom, Populated by Savages

This tale of barbarity is almost beyond belief for the date when it took place, June 21st 1786, and the location, the so-called civilised country of England. The details come from a source that I have used quite frequently before, namely “The Date Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood” and one other website:

The savagery of the punishment meted out on this poor young woman would be difficult to believe were it not so well authenticated. I have translated some of ye more difficult fentencef into ye moderne Englifhe:

“The victim of it was a young woman of Nottingham extraction, her mother having been a native of the town. Her name was Phoebe Harris. She was small in stature, rather stout and of good figure, with a pale complexion, and pleasing features. Her age was 30, and she lived with her husband in London. She was caught while in the act of counterfeiting coins, to which she had been introduced by her husband, who, it appeared, was an old practitioner. For this offence she was tried at the Old Bailey, and sentenced to death.
She was conducted on a subsequent day by two constables to the open space in front of Newgate, in the presence of about 20,000 spectators, where a stake had been securely fixed in the ground, about eleven feet high, and with a curved projection of iron at the top, to which was fixed a rope. The prisoner was placed on a stool, with her back to the stake, and the rope was positioned around her neck. After the priest of the gaol had prayed with her for a short time, the stool was pulled from underneath, leaving her suspended by the neck, with her feet about a foot from the ground.”

According to V. A. C. Gatrell’s book “The Hanging Tree”, Phoebe then choked noisily to death over several minutes:

“After hanging there for half an hour, the executioner put an iron chain around her upper body and fastened it to the stake with nails.”

The Date Book takes up the tale with tasteful enthusiasm:

“Two cart loads of wooden faggots were then placed round her and set on fire:

The rope speedily snapped, and the body slipped, but was sustained by an iron chain passed round her waist and the stake. In the course of three hours the corpse was entirely consumed.

The unfortunate sufferer, Phoebe, was struck with so much horror at the idea of her body being burnt, that in the night previous to her execution she was quite frantic. When she was led to the stake, she appeared languid and terrified, and trembled excessively. The awful apparatus of death evidently struck her mind with consternation, and totally incapacitated her for her last prayer.
Until midday, while the victim was still burning, the spectators were loud in their angry denouncements of the officers of the law, but as soon as the latter had left, the people in the crowd amused themselves by kicking about her ashes.

An application had been made to the Sheriffs by the respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood, praying that the execution might take place at Tyburn, or at some small distance from them, but without avail.

The consequences were serious : several ladies were taken very unwell, and many were severely affected by the offensive smell of the burning corpse.”

The consequences were a damn sight more serious for Phoebe. The locals, NIMBYs one and all, had actually organised and sent in a petition to prevent Phoebe being executed so near to their homes. They considered such savage practices should not be carried out in areas frequented by respectable folk. Genuine world class savagery should take place in a working class area where it would be better appreciated.

Even so, 20,000 spectators isn’t a bad turn out for a respectable area. I bet somebody wished that they could have charged entrance money.

The offence of counterfeiting:

“for which Phoebe Harris suffered, was classed as High Treason. Blackstone accounts for the punishment of women for this crime being different from that of men, by stating that the natural modesty of the sex forbids the exposure and public cutting up of their bodies, and therefore they are burnt. The punishment of men for high treason was beheading, cutting the body into four parts, and burning the heart.”

Here is the ‘quartering’ bit of that terrible trio of punishments:

And executions are always an excuse for a barbecue:

Only two more women would be killed in public in this grotesque way, and the dates may well be significant. One was Margaret Sullivan on June 25th 1788 and the other was Christian Murphy on March 18th 1789.

On July 14th 1789, the French people finally grew tired of a legal system presided over by a spoilt brat of a king and driven by an arrogant and self-serving nobility. It is not without significance that they attacked the Bastille prison as their first target. Neither is it without significance that the revolutionaries were keen to use a more humane method of execution, namely the Guillotine. Here is a charming painting of the Terror in full swing, with some lovely details if you look carefully, especially the little doggie. I couldn’t find Wally but I think I might have found his head :

I believe the judges back in London may well have noticed the developments in France, because when Sophia Girton was convicted of counterfeiting in April 1790, her execution by being strangled and burnt in public was postponed, as Parliament decided that hanging would be a better way to execute women.

Sophia was not hanged though. She was exiled to Australia where she made a new life for herself, admittedly in the most appalling of conditions:

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The Luckiest Man in the World (2)

In the previous post, I explained how the aircraft being used for training by Bomber Command were often very poor machines from the pilots’ point of view and in a very poor state:

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Poor aircraft then, and, from Old Nottinghamian, Jack Sweeney’s point of view, it had also been a very poor decision when Ashbourne in Derbyshire was selected as the place to construct the airbase where he was to do his training in 81 OTU.

In the first place, the building of RAF Ashbourne was actually against regulations as it was higher than the ceiling height for the construction of airfields:

And everyone was well aware of the prevailing weather around Ashbourne. Driving rain, rain, sleet, snow, drizzle, fog and mist. As I write now, even the tripadvisor website, trying to attract tourists to Ashbourne, offers “Stunning walks & scenery – whatever the weather”:

And the 1940s had a lot worse weather than we experience nowadays.

Ashbourne, of course, has the nickname “the Gateway to the Peak District”. And that says it all. If you have lots of peaks, you should be thinking about whether that is the best place to allow inexperienced young men to fly around, often at night, in aircraft without radar aids of any kind, and only the most rudimentary of weather forecasting.

Only two or three miles north of the airfield there are steep slopes, rising up to extensive high land masses around Fenny Bentley and Kniveton. Given how many foggy nights used to occur in that area, such countryside is just not acceptable for pilot training.
Jack Sweeney was killed on January 31st 1944. Ironically he wasn’t flying from Ashbourne but from a satellite airfield nearby called RAF Tilstock. Like so many of the hundreds of airfields constructed in Britain at this time, Tilstock has been rather neglected over the past and could do with a little light weeding perhaps:

In the notes I made during my researches, I described the countryside around Tilstock as “quite hilly country, very variable, lots of steep slopes”, so it’s not too different from the nearby Ashbourne area.
Sergeant Sweeney took off from RAF Tilstock in an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V, serial number LA 765:

He crashed about 30 miles away near Hardiwick between Caverswall and Dilhorne, a tiny village situated in what looks to me to be quite a hilly landscape, perhaps 7 or 8 miles north east of Blythe Bridge. When our family all settled into our 1959 Ford Anglia saloon for the long trip from Derby to Wigan in the pre-motorway years of the early 1960s, Blythe Bridge was a familiar and exciting landmark for all of us, It meant that we were a third of the way there and only had 70 miles to go, unless, of course, in those pre-motorway years, we got lost:

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The kings of slavery, and the queens (2)

Last time I promised you a quiz. Well, it’s not the kind of quiz they would broadcast on television, but let’s give it a go.
In 1710, if you ever saw an African slave who belonged to the Royal African Company, how could you tell?

Easy…he would have the letters ‘RAC’ burned into his chest with a branding iron like the ones they use in cowboy films with cattle. I couldn’t find a photograph of that, but I did manage to find one with some branding irons on. These are actual branding irons for slaves, not cattle:

Here is the second question which is a little bit more difficult.
If you ever saw an African slave with the letters ‘DY’ branded on his chest, what did it mean?

If you’ve been paying attention, though, it’s not that difficult. It meant ‘Duke of York’. It meant he was owned by the Duke of York, who later succeeded to the throne and became King James II.

An extra special bonus question. When the Duke of York became King James II, what did he have the slaves’ chests branded with?  Was it ‘J2’?

No, it wasn’t, he continued with ‘DY’. And I couldn’t trace it, but I would presume that his eventual successor, Queen Anne didn’t have ‘QA’ on her slaves but stuck to ‘RAC’.  And the money rolled in:

And more to come. Lots more:

It’s just that branding people on the chest with a red hot piece of metal reminds me rather uncomfortably of one other way of marking your racial inferiors:

Forty years later, the British were awarded the monopoly on selling slaves to the Spanish for the next three decades. This monopoly was sold on to the famous “South Sea Company”. They dealt in turn almost exclusively with the Royal African Company. Here is their coat of arms. Look at the happy slaves, all set for a spot of weekend hunting, don’t you know?

Only a year after the Spanish deal was set up, Queen Anne owned 22½% of the shares in the Royal African Company. That means she owned more than a fifth of the British slave trade, the largest slave trade in the world at the time. She was quite possibly the biggest slave dealer on the planet.
When she died, King George I became king. He wasn’t happy owning a fifth of the British slave trade.

It wasn’t enough, so he increased his shareholding and made himself Governor of the whole sorry business. A business which transported around 64,000 slaves to the Americas in 15 or so years. George III carried on with the family business, accused by a slightly hypocritical Thomas Jefferson of waging “cruel war against human nature itself”.
There was some opposition to the Royal African Company though. Across the country, small businesses spoke out against the Company’s activities in the slave trade and especially, against their monopoly. In their campaign, they used the motto, “We want the freedom to traffic slaves too”. Smaller businesses, smaller boats, but there’s still money to be made:

But let’s not kick our lovely royal family too much. Instead. let’s look at the case of Christopher Codrington.  Christopher Codrington was the owner of a slave plantation in Barbados in the early 1700s. He died, presumably without children, in 1710. Being a pious man, who did he bequeath it to?

Correctamundo! The Church of England. I bet they shrieked in disgust. Threw their hands in the air and shouted “Free the Slaves! Free the Slaves!” Well, not exactly. They kept the slave plantation. They kept the slaves, and indeed, they kept the money. And there was lots of it:

It was used to finance the Society for the Propagation of the Christian Religion in Foreign Parts.

Now for the scary quiz question. If you worked for the said organisation, and you owned lots of slaves who might run away, clearly you needed to brand them on the chest, so they could be reclaimed after they had been recaptured. What did you use? Surely not the whole name? Of course not. What about “SPCRFP”? No, not at all. The Christian slave owners just branded “Society” across their slaves’ chests. Actually, SPCRFP would have been one letter shorter.

Actually, they probably used these as well:

The Christian slaves were, actually, slaves who didn’t last too long. Despite their obvious value to the company SPCRFP, by 1740, the death rate among the slaves newly purchased by the Church was up to 40%. Four out of every ten were dead within three years of purchase.
And it wasn’t just the SPCRFP who were trying to cash in. Other members of the church fancied a bit of the cash. All you had to do was get your Bible, cross out the bit about “Ye cannot serve God and mammon”, buy a few shares in your local slavery business and away you go.

This is Woodville K Marshall who is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of the West Indies:

He stated clearly and unequivocally:

“”It was not so much the SPG that the Church should be apologising for, as the activities of the individual parsons who kept plantations and slaves for sheer profit.”

Except that nobody apologises nowadays for slavery, because they risk being sued. Despite all their wealth, wealth dripping from them as they walk along, the descendants of the slavers will never say sorry. And let me make the point again, the same point I made in a previous post:

“The tragedy, of course, is that those individuals today have little, if anything, in common with their slave owning ancestors from so many years ago. On the other hand, they have inherited their wealth. What have they done to make amends for their slave owning ancestors? Built a school in the Windward Islands? Built a hospital in Barbados? Sponsored cataract operations in Jamaica?”


This Accident and Emergency Unit in Jamaica was built by the Scotia Bank Foundation, Canada’s third largest bank.  But why not by the individual rich men and women who are the present day descendants of those slave traders?

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The Luckiest Man in the World (1)

In his later years, my Dad, Fred, always used to say that training to fly in bombers was infinitely more perilous than flying on combat missions. He did his training with 20 OTU at Lossiemouth in north east Scotland. And certainly, casualty rates on the training airbases in Scotland were always extremely high.
No matter where their OTU was, though, everyone soon became well aware just how dangerous their young lives were. The apparently modern aircraft, pictures of which would previously have filled publications for young boys such as “The Wonder Book of the RAF”, were in reality often second rate, or extremely dated, and were certainly not good enough to be front line combat aircraft. The mechanics too, being often extremely inexperienced, were frequently incapable of servicing the aircraft properly. The book looks exciting though:

The aircraft types used included the Handley Page Hampden, which had a variety of nicknames  including the Flying Suitcase, the Flying Panhandle and the Flying Tadpole. Nobody liked it very much then!

The very best of all the training bombers was the Vickers Wellington.


Overall, though, the problem was that crews were by definition inexperienced, and unlikely to be able to respond to any given emergency either sufficiently quickly or in the appropriate manner. They were more liable to make mistakes, and then to compound those initial errors by making even more mistakes. Indeed, statistically, it remains a fact that around 15% of Bomber Command’s fatalities during the Second World War occurred through crashes and accidents in training situations. In some O.T.U.s. casualty rates reached 25%. The situation was perhaps best summed up by the airman who said that the problem was “dodgy crews in dodgy aircraft.”

Here’s an example. It’s taken from the research I am currently doing about the Old Nottinghamians, Old Boys of the High School, who perished in the Second World War.

“…Jack was called to join 81 OTU and was listed to train as a bomber pilot. 81 OTU was formed in July 1942 and they were based at RAF Ashbourne training aircrews for night bombing using the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley:

This aircraft was obsolete by the time the war broke out. It had a small bomb load, it would not fly on just one engine and when it did fly, it had a most peculiar nose down attitude. This was caused by the angle of the wings which was very high to ensure a good performance when taking off or landing. But when cruising, there was an enormous amount of drag, restricting the aircraft’s fuel economy and forcing many pilots and their crews to ditch in the North Sea when they could not get all the way back to their airfield. The crews who did survive joked that the Whitley was “slow as a funeral” and called it the “Flying Wardrobe”, or, on a bad day, the “Flying Coffin”.

We’ll see why in more detail next time.

 

 

 

 

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The kings of slavery, and the queens (1)

I have written quite a bit about slavery and its evils, but after that shock of finding out that my cherished heroes of stage and screen were the wealthy descendants of wealthy people who owned slaves, I had one more shock in store:


I found out that the Kings and Queens of England were involved in the slave trade. I knew that even now the modern royals have their dubious dark corners. What kind of man, for example, deludes a little girl into giving Hitler salutes?

How did the witnesses of the illegal killing of a rare Hen Harrier feel when no charges were brought?

I knew how unbelievably rich Cornwall could make you, even if it is one of the poorest counties in the country. I knew that if anybody in the county died without a will and no heir could be found, everything went to Prince Charles:

I knew from the Daily Mirror how one royal “required his chef to cook his eggs for three minutes; the chef usually boiled several batches to ensure they fit his precise preferences.” :

But slavery? Apparently, it began with Queen Elizabeth the First. She gave her royal support to Sir John Hawkins, the sea captain, who was one of the first to men to make a profit from transporting Africans to the Americas.
Then there were the Royal Adventurers into Africa, a company set up in 1662 to trade slaves. It involved the brother of King Charles II, namely the Duke of York, and the sister of King Charles II, Princess Henrietta, and the Queen Mother, Henrietta Maria, and Queen Catherine of Braganza and the Duke of Albermarle, Lord Arlington, Lord Ashley, Lord Berkeley, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Craven, Lord Crofts, and Lord Sandwich and Baron Tom Cobley and all. In total, there were four royals, four barons, two dukes, five earls, seven knights and a marquess. And Samuel Pepys. And the so-called “philosopher of liberty” and “Father of Liberalism”, John Locke. By 1665 they were making £200,000 per year from slaves between them. (£6.5 billion today). The slaves didn’t make anything at all:

The Royal Adventurers into Africa were given a monopoly on the slave trade for a thousand years but ceased trading in 1672. That same year, King Charles II gave a monopoly on dealing in slaves to the Royal African Company. The Royal African Company (the name might have some significance here) was owned by his brother, His Royal Highness, James, Duke of York. Also involved were Sir George Carteret, Sir John Colleton, Lord Craven,  Lord Shaftesbury, 15 Lord Mayors of London, 25 Sheriffs of London and the so-called “philosopher of liberty” and “Father of Liberalism” and “lover of hard cash”, John Locke, whose ancestor had been a slave trader.
By 1680, they were transporting around 6,000 slaves a year to new homes in the West Indies and the same annual number to North America….

And next time, an exciting quiz…

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