Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (6)

About a year ago I bought a collection of more than 12,000 photographs of World War Two. Most of them were not British or American but were either Russian or German. I would like to share some of them with you because a number of these photographs have great merits as photographs, as well as capturing a split second in history. None of them have a caption, so I have tried to work out what might be going on.

Today, I’m going to look at the return of the Russian civilian population to their homes.

Some came home on foot, walking, perhaps, hundreds of miles, many of them barefoot:

 

Many pulled handcarts:

And others pushed handcarts, although, if you look carefully, occasional individuals travelled in style, even if they looked slightly startled:

The Red Army travelled in top quality, luxury cattle trucks. The large slogan means “We (are) from Berlin”. The present tense of the verb “to be” does not exist in Russian. The word “Berlin” is decipherable, however.

I think that this is an ex-soldier who has been demobbed recently, and he is having a look round Berlin before he makes his way home. That huge statue used to stand in front of the city palace above the River Spree, and commemorated Kaiser Wilhelm I. It’s clearly a place where soldiers would hang out, and that is one of the reasons that I think that this well dressed young lady, who is not walking but just standing there, is actually a prostitute:

Some areas were still very dangerous and a Red Army escort was sometimes necessary to get home. Notice how the lady is carrying the family icon. Christianity saw a big revival during the war as it provided somebody to pray to who had a lot more credibility than Uncle Joe Stalin:

Here are two young women meeting in a shattered, desolate city, possibly Stalingrad. One has just been to do the shopping and the other one has just got off the train with her suitcase. There are still fires burning and some buildings still have the dark marks of a recent fire.

As the liberating armies come ever closer, the first jeeps arrive, to be greeted by delirious crowds. Except that that isn’t happening here. Some of the people actually look really quite aggressive. Are they Poles, assembled in the streets to shout “Welcome to the Red Army” or perhaps “Soviets, stay as long as you like”?

If there’s going to be a harvest, somebody needs to start ploughing at some point. I saw horses used widely in Polish fields as late as 1969:

If the horse isn’t up to it, see if the family can help you out:

And if all goes well, you will get your just deserts:

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Filed under History, military, Russia

Why I am what I am (3)

 

I have always had a soft spot for the RAF because Fred was in the RAF and he talked about it a lot.

I have alway been fascinated by aircraft because Fred liked aircraft, ever since one of Sir Alan Cobham’s finest landed in Startin’s Field at the back of his house.

Fred always admired the Spitfire as the aircraft that saved England……

And he always said that the Wellington was “a reliable old crate”……

But he always reserved his most emotional words for the Avro Lancaster. “It would always get you back home, no matter what”, which wasn’t strictly 100% true, but it gave him sufficient faith to get into the aircraft in the first place……

 

I have always tried to do my duty and to carry out all of my obligations. This is probably connected with Fred’s belief that there were two types of men in the world. One kind was the fighter pilot who was mercurial and brilliant, but occasionally capable of great inconsistency.

In contrast, the bomber pilot was always dependable like some kind of stolid, courageous bus driver, who could always be relied on to deliver the goods, in considerable quantity, to the right place at the right time.

When I was young, I as always very upset when I was told  that I was the bomber pilot type. I always felt that Fred was saying that I lacked flair and imagination, that I was boring and that I was incapable of the type of success which is spectacular and excites people. Only in later years did I realise how from Fred’s point of view the bomber pilot was exactly what you needed. As one author has put it, the relationship between the bomber pilot and the wireless operator was that “his fate was my fate”. At least nineteen times, therefore, Fred entrusted his very life to a bomber pilot, and then had this faith rewarded by not becoming one of the 55,573 Bomber Command casualties…..

As a negative, I have always been partial to a drink, because Fred always used to have a drink when he wanted to. With his PTSD, though, he had a much better excuse than me.

Another negative related to this is my own great anxiety in the face of any future event or, especially, a journey to somewhere unfamiliar. Fred had exactly the same problems. In his case, I suspect that he still had that old fear of getting into his bomber and facing the possibility of an imminent and violent death.

I always felt great anxiety about being sacked from my job because Fred  always had the exact same fear. That was because he worked for a clay mining company before the war, and they did not hesitate to sack people. “One strike, and you’re out!” as you might say. Here’s Fred at Ensor’s, with the rest of the workforce. It’s around 1937…..

I have very little self-confidence because Fred was always very keen that I should never stand out from the common herd. He therefore prevented me from getting big headed by criticising whatever I did and at best giving it minimal praise. He would say “Never stand out. Never be different” because that was what the upper echelons of the RAF hierarchy wanted to happen. Unfortunately, to succeed, you need to stand out, and you will have to be different to do that.

Fred always used to watch out for me coming home if ever I was late. He would lean over the front gate as if by accident or coincidence. I absolutely hated it, and I could cheerfully have shot him. I hated the idea of being controlled. Now I have my own daughter, and although my methods have always been, I hope, a little bit more subtle, I have always done pretty much the same thing. Still, worrying about your child is better than just not bothering where they get to.

When I was a little boy, Fred took me to a local medieval church where I could see where Robin Hood used to sharpen the tips of his arrows on the stones of the back wall. I now live in Sherwood in Nottingham. Less than half a mile away is an ancient ford over a stream. This site has been seriously suggested in at least one book as the location of Robin Hood’s camp.

The local medieval church was St Michael with St Mary’s in Melbourne, Derbyshire. ……….

Some of the grooves for Robin Hood and his Merry Men’s arrowheads are visible in the bottom right of the picture. The church is Norman as is shown by the shape of the arch and the many concentric rings of decoration around the top of the door……..

The columns are stout and broad, just like Durham Cathedral, and the arches similarly rounded, not pointed. Notice the Australian flag which commemorates the links between Melbourne in England and Melbourne in Australia……

And finslly, as I slowly but surely morph into my own father, I have started telling the same old stories over and over again, just like Fred did.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, my Dad, My House, Nottingham, Personal

Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (5)

About a year ago I bought a DVD with more than 12,000  images of World War Two . Most of them were either Russian or German.

This first photograph shows a little Russian boy who appeared in one of the previous photographs in the Blog Post “Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (4)”. Both he and his grandad stand in the smoking ruins of their house, and of their village. We can only guess at the circumstances. Personally, given the fact that the two individuals do not look particularly shocked or desolate, I think that the Germans have set fire to their village as they retreat back to Germany with the Red Army keenly pursuing them.

In this winter scene, Grandad and grandson are planning the future, perhaps where they will live, or where they hope a neighbour will help them rebuild their house and so on. Grandad is carrying his cane, but what’s that in his left hand? Incidentally, after much careful examination with Blog Post No 4, I do not think these two are the same individuals featured there, although, of course, you may not agree.

With victory in sight, though, and the tide of war now relatively far away, the refugees gradually came back. Here’s Granny, with her two daughters and five, perhaps six children. Everybody is barefoot, but they’re going home, so walking’s easy. And the two fathers? Well, they could have been starved to death in a POW camp, or worked to death as slave labourers in Poland or even in the Channel Islands.

This careful close up excludes any adults and focusses on the children with two brothers making manful efforts to carry as much as they could on a handcart. The baby sleeps the sleep of the innocent little child. Notice how she may well be strapped in for safety.  We will never know if the family’s house was still there when they arrived. In Byelorussia alone, up to 1500 villages were razed to the ground.

As the conquering hero returns, it’s the village kids who spot him first. He has a smile wide enough to indicate that he has already asked somebody whether his family is still alive. Under the German occupation, nobody was safe.

If I were going to give this photograph a title, it would be “The Love of a Mother”. Ordinary young soldiers walked back home, starting as a group which lost a member or two as they passed by each village. These were villages where the inhabitants would not have known whether a particular young serviceman was alive or dead. Yuri Gagarin’s two brothers performed slave labour in Poland, escaped and the Red Army conscripted them. The rest of the family thought both of them were dead, and Yuri became seriously ill with “grief and hunger”. They got back home in late 1945:

And still the refugees stream westwards to their homes. These bring two cows with them and a sturdy cart with substantial wheels. There are eight people, with, for me, two grannies, two mothers, two boys and a young woman. They all have boots and one boy has a Red Army infantryman’s cap. Did they find their house even vaguely intact? And what about at least two husbands?

Even more so, what about the bear who appears to be asleep on the back of the cart? Or have I got to take more water with it?

Most stories in Russia, though, had a sad ending. A house smashed to pieces by a German tank, because the crew wanted to use it as a hiding place. A woman with perhaps five mouths to feed and no husband in sight. It’s enough to make even  tough little Russian lads burst into tears. But don’t worry. Everything will be made good within a few years.

Indeed, things did get better ! So smile and enjoy being alive, enjoy sitting in the summer sunshine of 1945. As many as 20 million Russians were not able to say that.

 

As far as the present war in the Ukraine is concerned, I would expect the Russians to remember the destruction wrought on so many towns, cities and villages of the old Soviet Union, and to begin face-to-face discussions before resorting to the senseless violence they have evidenced so far. But, as we know in the West, hardly any people who witnessed the Second World War are still alive, and that must have been enough for a glory seeking politician to forget the ways of peace and to take up the pointless violence of the invader.

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Why I am what I am (2)

Last time I mentioned a number of things that linked me to my Dad insofar as interests, hobbies and sports were concerned. I soon discovered that that was really only the beginning of the story.

I rather think that I studied Russian because Fred used to speak so frequently of the Russians during the Second World War. In the bookcase at his parents’ house, he had a pamphlet borrowed from an RAF library. It was entitled “Our Soviet Friends”, and it had pictures of the dam at Dnepropetrovsk:

He told me how, in the RAF, anybody wth knowledge of Russian could name their own price for helping to liaise with our new surprise allies, once the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. Towards the end of the war, Lancasters, on rare occasions, used to bomb the Germans and then carry on to Russia to land. When they came back they brought more bombs and often, one or two souvenirs.  On one occasion, my Dad had had a drink from a flask of coffee made up for the aircraft’s crew in Leningrad. I had to satisfy myself with my early attempts to learn the language, with the woman of my dreams…..

I may like French because, in 1940, Fred had wanted Britain and France to merge into one country just like Churchill had said. Fred was a keen European and, like Churchill,  he wanted a “United States of Europe”. As members of Bomber Command he told me, though, that the French could often be difficult to work with. Here is a Bristol Blenheim of the Free French Air Force in North Africa…..

I have always had great regard for the Poles because Fred said they were great blokes, and that he had joined up so that Poland could be freed from the invading Germans. A few years ago, I was in hospital for a operation, and there was a Polish van driver there that nobody would talk to because he was Polish. Except me, and if Fred had been there, he would have spoken to him, too. Racism can be amazingly petty.

I try to like poetry, because I know that Fred had claimed so often that poetry was an integral part of his life. He liked to read peoms out loud to his classes at school, his favourite being “Flannan Isle”.

I did a series of five blog posts about the mystery of Flannan Isle, as portrayed in the poem, and the first one is here. The rest can be found by merely searching for  “Flannan”. And when you’ve done that, don’t forget to watch this film with its own, made-up, explanation of the three men’s disappearance….

I’m sure that I became a teacher because Fred was a teacher and I felt that a teacher was a good thing to be. In the mid-1970s, the money was excellent and I didn’t automatically have to live in London.

I always worked hard as a teacher because Fred told me that at the end of each day, you should always ask yourself the question, “Were you just given your wages, or have you earned them ?”

I worked all my life at the High School, 38 years, because when he took me there for a job interview in 1975, I could see that Fred was enormously impressed by the school. To him, and to me, it looked like something out of a film, such as, perhaps, the old version of “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”…….

In actual fact, after his death, I found that, when he was a boy in the 1930s, Fred’s Uncle George  had bought him a present, the book of the film “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”.  They didn’t shoot this film at The High School, but if they had wished to, it would have been entirely appropriate from the architectural point of view….

Fred read a lot about the Second World War, and one of his favourite books was a German doctor’s story of Operation Barbarossa, a book called “Moscow Tram Stop”. The High School has its own tram stop, called “High School”. That fact has always reassured me that I had made the right decision to work there for so long.

 

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Filed under Film & TV, History, Literature, military, my Dad, Nottingham, Personal, Russia, Wildlife and Nature

Phonetic Alphabets (2)

Last time we looked at a number of phonetic alphabets. There was the British Army in 1904, the  British Post Office in 1914 , the  Royal Navy in 1917 and the  Western Union in 1918. Then came the good sense of the US Army and the US Navy in 1941 to have the same alphabet (for both) in contrast with the four different alphabets used by the RAF in different periods of World War II.

But what about the foreigners?

Here’s the Luftwaffe alphabet  in 1940. The very same one was used by the Wehrmacht, the German army:

Anton, Ärger, Bertha, Cäsar, Charlotte, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon, Zeppilon

It is obviously different from the Allies’ alphabet, being based on names, but that must surely have made it quite easy to learn. Incidentally, “Ärger” and “Ödipus” were used for any words which contained either ” ä ” or ” ö “. Notice too how they have a code word for Ä and Ö. There is also a quick way of doing ‘c’ and ‘ch’ with Cäsar and China along with ‘s’ and ‘sch’ with Siegfried and Schule.

The most frequent marks of the Messerschmitt Bf109 such as the 109D, the 109E, the 109F and the 109G were frequently known by their phonetic letters, the Dora, the Emil, the Friedrich and the Gustav.

Here’s a young man and an old man who are the one and the same man. He was a Luftwaffe radio operator in WW2. The shape of his ears is a giveaway. Age yourself by seventy years but you’ll never change your ears.

And here is the cloth badge to be sewed on the uniform of a crewmember that the Luftwaffe called a “bordfunker”:

The German Navy, the Kriegsmarine, had a very slightly different alphabet, but , again, it was based on names:

Anton, Ärger, Bruno, Cäsar, China, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon,  Zeppilon

The Wehrmacht used pretty much the  same alphabet with:

Anton, Ärger, Berta, Cäsar, Charlotte, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Übel, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon, Zeppelin 

 I couldn’t find a guaranteed French phonetic alphabet for World War II, but I did find this one, which is obviously based on first names:

Anatole, Berthe, Célestin, Désiré, Eugène, François, Gaston, Henri, Irma, Joseph, Kléber,

Louis, Marcel, Nicolas, Oscar, Pierre, Quintal, Raoul, Suzanne, Thérèse, Ursule, Victor, William, Xavier,

Yvonne, Zoé

That was a real list of sex bombs for French soldiers of every sexual persuasion to drool over. I don’t know what a “Quintal” is, but this happy curly haired chap is Ryan Quintal:

Actually I did look up “quintal” and one website said “a hundredweight  or a weight equal to 100 kilograms”. Another website said “backyard”. I often confuse the two.

The Italians, like many other nations, base their alphabet on towns and cities:

Ancona, Bologna, Como, Domodossola, Empoli, Firenze, Genova, Hotel, Imola, Jolly, Kursaal,

Livorno, Milano, Napoli, Otranto, Padova, Quarto,Roma, Savona, Torino,

Udine, Venezia, Washington, Xeres, Yacht, Zara.

Surely we all know the telegram sent by the humourist Robert Benchley to the New Yorker magazine:

“Have arrived Venice. Streets full of water. Please advise.”

I did find a Soviet spelling alphabet. The Russian alphabet, though, uses 33 letters, so it was quite complicated.  I decided to transcribe only the words for our Western letters. That came to:

Anna, Boris, Konstantin, Dmitri, Yelena, Fyodor, Grigory,

Khariton, Ivan, Zhenya, Leonid, Mikhail,

Nikolai, Olga, Pavel, Roman, Semyon,

Tatyana, Ulyana, Vasiliy, Zinaida.

Some letters such as ‘k’, ‘q’,  ‘w’, ‘x’ and ‘y’ do not really exist in Russian. Here’s a link to some of the letters of their alphabet.

Here are some Soviet signallers, giving a report to Headquarters in an unknown German town that has just been captured:

Two final points. If you can understand this, you’re a better man than me. This is perhaps 20% of a very large presentation of the Japanese phonetic alphabet. My best guess is that a word stands for a syllable, so that “suzume” stands for the syllable “su” and so on:

And finally, here’s the weirdest phonetic alphabet I found, taken from Tasmania in 1908:

Authority, Bills, Capture, Destroy, Englishmen, Fractious,

Galloping, High, Invariably, Juggling, Knights, Loose,

Managing, Never, Owners, Play, Queen, Remarks,

Support, The, Unless, Vindictive, When, Xpeditiously,

Your,  Zigzag

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, History, Humour, military, Russia, the Japanese

Why I am what I am (1)

One day I started thinking about all the little facets of myself as a person and where they all came from. I didn’t take me long to work out that the vast majority came from my Dad. I suppose that was because when I was a little boy I spent a lot of time with him. I was nevertheless really quite surprised how many apparently insignificant activities took on a major importance in my later life.

My Dad, Fred, made it quite obvious to me that he liked football/soccer. He took me to games with Derby County although it was their sixth game before they won. Norwich City (1-4), Newcastle United (1-2), Stoke City (1-1), Grimsby Town (2-4), Blackburn Rovers (1-1) and , finally, in a friendly, Spartak Prague (7-1). Here’s the programme to the first match I ever watched. I was seven years old.

I have always read avidly, and, every Saturday morning, Fred used to take me to the old library in Alexandra Road  in Swadlincote, a small town in South Derbyshire. It was on the right hand side as you went down a very steep hill, just before the local cinema.

I have read books avidly ever since, and often wish I could see again the big green book of Norse Myths and Legends that was in that Old Library all those years ago. The library itself was plagued by subsidence caused by coal mining and it was demolished in 1960.Here are some houses in the same street. Just look at the cracks in those bay windows…..

And here’s a short video of the problem. I included this clip in a previous blog post…..

As a boy, I collected stamps because Fred had collected stamps as a boy and he gave me his stamp collection. I always remember that it was in a “Commando” stamp album, resplendent with a commando firing a sten gun from the hip on the front cover. As an adult, I do wonder what connection, if any, that had to do with stamp collecting but in 1961 nobody seemed to notice….

I like birdwatching because Fred talked about eagles in Scotland when he was in the RAF. On one occasion, as he travelled by train across the Highlands south towards Edinburgh, he was in a compartment alone with an old Scotsman. It was a fine, bright sunny day, when suddenly the Highlander tapped him on the knee, and pointed out of the window towards the distant mountain tops. There, high in the clear blue sky, was the unmistakeable shape of a soaring Golden Eagle….

I can actually remember going on a walk with Fred one morning when I was seven or eight. and at one point I was a little tired, so I went to sit on a clump of grass with my back against an old fence post. As I sat there, Fred caught my attention, and he pointed up to a bird that was singing its heart out as it hovered high in the sky. I asked him what it was, and he replied “a skylark”. In the sixty or more years since then, I have never lost that desire to identify birds:

One day when I was in my Dad’s class at Woodville Junior School he gave us all a printed sheet with his own hand drawn pictures of four common birds. We all coloured them in so that one day we would recognise them when we saw them. The birds were blackbird, thrush, starling and robin (the European version, Erithacus rubecula)  Here they are……

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And here they are in a modern version of what we received in class, almost a whole lifetime ago. There were no multicoloured worksheets on computer screens in 1961…..

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Phonetic Alphabets (1)

Signalling by one group of soldiers to another, or by one ship to another, has gone on for centuries. Signalling flags were used on ships in the time of Admiral Nelson:

And there was always semaphore. As used by the Beatles:

The advent of radio, however, made things a lot more difficult, because when men spoke to each other, interference was a frequent problem. Sometimes words, especially place names, had to be spelt out, and merely giving out a list of letters, such as L-O-N-D-O-N did not always work, especially if the interference was intermittent.

In 1904, British Army signallers started to use a partial spelling alphabet, where only the more problematic letters had their own code word. This produced:

ACK, BEER/BAR, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L ,  EMMA, N,O, PIP, Q, R, ESSES, TOC, U, VIC, W, X, Y, Z

Only seven letters needed! By 1918, the problems of using the 1904 alphabet had added  a few words:

CORK,   DON.   EDDY.    INK.    JUG.   QUAD.   TALK

Here’s a war artist’s rendition of a signaller:

Things got better once for the British army when they adapted horse drawn radios:

Overall, it is crucial to have only ONE spelling alphabet, otherwise the situation becomes downright confusing. There used to be different alphabets for:

the 1914 British Post Office with Apple, Brother, Charlie, Dover, Eastern,

the 1917 Royal Navy with Apples, Butter, Charlie, Duff, Edward

the 1918 Western Union with Adams, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Edward

Much more sensibly, during World War II, the US Army and Navy used the same alphabet. It is familiar from so many war films and so many comics:

Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox, George, How, Item, Jig, King, Love, Mike,

Nan, Oboe, Peter, Queen, Roger, Sugar, Tare, Uncle, Victor, William, X-ray, Yoke

These men were some of the members of the real “Easy Company” :

What is important here is to have no words whatsoever that sound like any of the others. In this alphabet maybe jig and king, or able and baker, or dog and fox might cause problems.

Here’s the RAF spelling alphabet until 1942:

Apple, Beer, Charlie, Don, Edward, Freddie, George, Harry, Ink, Johnnie, King, London, Monkey,

Nuts,  Orange, Pip, Queen, Robert, Sugar, Toc, Uncle Vic,  William, Yorker, Zebra

And here’s the RAF alphabet after 1942

Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox, George, How, Item, Jig, King, Love, Mike, Nan, Oboe,

Peter, Queen, Roger, Sugar, Tare, Uncle, Victor, William, X-ray, Yoke, Zebra.

Smart people will have noticed how close it is to the US Army and Navy alphabet. How sensible!

In actual fact, the RAF was already using quite a few other alphabets anyway, such as this one noted in 1942-1943 :

Apple, Beer, Charlie, Dog, Edward, Freddy, George, Harry, In, Jug/Johnny, King, Love, Mother,

Nuts, Orange, Peter, Queen, Roger/Robert, Sugar, Tommy, Uncle, Vic, William, X-ray, Yoke/Yorker, Zebra

And there was a further alphabet for the squadron letters on the side of the aircraft in the Dambusting 617 Squadron:

A-Apple, B-Baker, C-Charlie, E-Easy, F-Freddie, G-George, H-Harry, J-Johnny, K-King,

L-Leather, M-Mother, N-Nuts, O-Orange, P-Popsie, S-Sugar, T-Tommy, W-Willie, Y-York, Z-Zebra.

I presume that the missing letters were non-existent aircraft. Here is 617 Squadron and these are B-Baker, G-George and M-Mother:

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I wrote a number of blog posts about my wife’s friend, Len, who flew in 617 Squadron, in G-George. His full name was Len Dorricott, and this link will take you to the first of the three posts. If you copy and paste the surname “Dorricott” into “Search”, then finding Blog Posts No 2 and No 3 about Len becomes a doddle.

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

Headless Valley (3)

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. For many years tales were told about fur trappers and gold prospectors going into the area, and either disappearing without trace or being found beheaded  and dead. The number of decapitated bodies found within Nahanni Valley earned it the nickname “Valley of Headless Men”.

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 many of the victims had quite simply not lost their heads. Here he is, in his comfy trousers:

Ranulph Fiennes, throughout his book, seems to tease the reader a little. He repeatedly mentions details which to a person interested in Bigfoot seem to be very strong indications that there is a Bigfoot very close to them, but then Ranulph chooses to feign innocence, just reporting any strange events as something which can easily be dismissed with a simple, normal, everyday explanation. For example, we have a moment when they are moving through very thick cover and suddenly….

“A crackling of breaking alder sounded ahead and the ground trembled as some great beast moved away.”

Perhaps it was a moose or a bear but I really do wonder if the ground trembles as they walk along. It frequently does for Bigfoot. who can weigh up to a thousand pounds for a mature male. Here’s a moose:

And then:

“(we went) to find rabbits beyond Prairie Creek. We followed the stream inland for an hour and smelled the stench of sulphur pools, though we saw none. Moving through a tall forest in dark undergrowth we heard a roar from higher up the valley: perhaps it was a bear or cougar we didn’t know, and, finding no rabbits…”

Bigfoot roars extremely loudly and very often, and he certainly stinks. Usually it is described as the smell of excrement, sewage, dead, rotting flesh, a wet skunk but also as the smell of sulphur.

And then, as they camped overnight….

Some of the animals that moved about around us that night were large enough to shake the ground- perhaps bears but more probably deer since we had seen a great many deer spoor along the narrow “game” runs.”

This is the same argument as I mentioned the first time, when they are moving through very thick cover.  And my point of view is still the same. Deer do not make the ground shake. And then….

“We heard the thud of hooves or paws as heavy creatures moved ahead through the trees.”

A classic mark of Bigfoot. Yes, they could be bears, or moose, or elk, but don’t forget that Bigfoot is always very keen to get away from human observers. Here’s that elk. He isn’t big enough to make the ground shake:

Bigfoot frequently wanders around a campsite at night looking for food, but he is also capable of stealing other things that he likes, such as in this short anecdote….

“An aged prospector, returning from a fruitless three year search in the Yukon found his mug had been stolen and a chunk of rock left in its place. The rock contained gold quartz and the prospector made a fortune.”

And:

Jack told us of a large black bear which he had watched ambling through some bush”.

People who say they have seen a black bigfoot are frequently told that they have seen a black bear, so, presumably, the two must be similar. I have seen neither, unfortunately!

Overall, “The Headless Valley” is a really good read, if you like tales of the wilderness. Ranulph Fiennes captures well the thrills of  shooting the rapids, or, equally, the awful couple of hours when he is a long way from camp and is totally lost. If you like that kind of book, then a second hand copy is very easy to acquire via the usual websites, and well worth taking the trouble.

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Filed under Canada, Criminology, Cryptozoology, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Why no statue ? (10)

Last time, I revealed that, up to and including the Second Boer War…….

“in every war fought by British forces they lost more men to typhoid than to the enemy”.

That was easily true of the Crimean War where 4,602 were killed in battle and 17,580 by typhoid. It was certainly true too of the Second Boer War and it would have been true of World War One, but for Almroth Wright.

Once he had seen the efficacy of his vaccine, Almroth gradually convinced the people in charge of the British armed forces of two measures which they absolutely had to take. Firstly, all military personnel would have to be injected, whatever they personally thought about it. Secondly, from 1910 onwards, around 10,000,000 vaccine doses had to be made immediately available for the troops.

As a consequence, when World War One began, the British Army was the only one with 100% vaccination of its troops against typhoid. In the Boer War in South Africa, there were 105 cases of typhoid per 1,000 troops and the death rate was 14.6 per 1,000 troops. In World War One though, there were 2.35 cases of typhoid per 1,000 troops and the death rate was 0.139 per 1,000 troops.

The result was that the British Empire suffered an appalling total of 1,118,264 casualties but the vast majority of them were on the battlefield. If the war had taken place without Almroth’s vaccine then the number of men and women to die would have been 2,236,529, and that would have been the figure if typhoid deaths were only one man more than those killed in action (which was extremely unlikely).

Let’s imagine that World War One had been played by Boer War rules. In South Africa, 5,774 men died in combat, or of the wounds they received in combat and 14, 210 died of disease. That is a ratio of just about 2½ to one, disease and combat. I’m not sure that I can believe my own Maths, but that would give you a grand total of 3,354,792 dead by the end of World War One, if typhoid had killed soldiers at its usual rate.

Is that not enough to warrant a statue? A total of 2,236,528 lives saved if the calculations are done by Boer War rules.

Even after Almroth Wright’s work, typhoid did still break out here and there in Great Britain. Without really searching very hard, I found that there were outbreaks in Maidstone in Kent (1897), Southampton and Winchester (1902) and Lincoln, England (1905). There was one very famous outbreak in New York (1906), but the disease kept up its unhealthy average in Dublin (1908), Retford in Nottinghamshire (1912), Tideswell in Derbyshire (1915), Croydon (1937), Chatham (1938), Dundee (1938) and Aberdeen (1964). Presumably, the arrival of lorry loads of Almroth’s vaccine prevented these outbreaks from becoming really serious (with the exception of Typhoid Mary, of course, in New York in 1906). Here she is, nearest bed:

During his lifetime, Almroth received at least 28 medals, prizes and honorary degrees. There is no statue of him, though. He was nominated 14 times for the Nobel prize from 1906 till 1925 but he didn’t receive one. All he has is a ward named after him at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington in London…….

 

 

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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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