Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Beast of Sarlat

The « Bête féroce de Sarlat » was famous in Périgord in central France from 1766 onwards. Its peculiarity was not to attack women but exclusively to kill men.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

According to that font of all knowledge, Wikipedia….

“The « Bête de Sarlat » was a man-eating animal behind a series of attacks against human beings in the Périgord province of France. During the spring of 1766, a dozen or so fatal attacks were been recorded in the villages around Sarlat. The inhabitants of the region were filled with genuine panic, beginning to talk of a gigantic beast thirsting for human blood or even a werewolf. The creature managed around fifteen victims more, before in August 1766 the peasants and noblemen organised a beat together with more than a hundred rifles. During the course of this, the animal was flushed and killed. It was a wolf infected with rabies but the people did not readily accept this explanation and continued to talk of a werewolf.”

One website devoted primarily to the « Bête du Gévaudan » has a little to say about the « Bête de Sarlat » :
11111xxxxxxx

After all, the two areas are not a million miles apart in distance, although the two time periods clash, with the more famous Gévaudan monster killing its victims between the early summer of 1764 and June 19th, 1767 when a local man named Jean Chastel supposedly killed it during a hunt organized by a local nobleman.

“The Bête de Sarlat terrorised the Périgord province of France in the XVIIIth century. Its first appearance came in March 1766, when it carried out around ten killings in the surrounding area. The fear that the Beast caused can be imagined. It was from this time onwards that the myth of an enormous monster thirsting for human blood arose.
But in the month of August 1766, it was finally identified as a wolf suffering from rabies. The people did not really believe this explanation and it must be said that in the intervening time at least another eighteen more people were killed. The monster was seen absolutely everywhere, even in the dark backstreets of Sarlat. When the people’s fear and exasperation was at its height, the legend of the beast grew to such a point that the good people of the area no longer dared go out as soon as it got dark.

From this time onwards, both peasants and nobility came together with more than a hundred rifles and began a beat. The creature was found, pursued and shot. This death was confirmed by an assembly of a large number of happy eye-witnesses and seems to have taken away once and for all the justified fears of the local people. We know very well that the wolf with rabies and the man with rabies seem equally overcome with madness: frothing at the mouth, slavering and biting. They are terrifying to see and dangerous to approach. But this killing only stopped the spread of the rumour. Nothing really changed either in Sarlat or in the surrounding region, where they still spoke of the beast as a werewolf.”

perigord noir rocamadour cccccc

A further account tells broadly the same tale….

“The first time that this creature came to people’s attention was in the spring of 1766 when it had already committed a dozen murders in the villages around Sarlat. From then on, absolute terror reigned in the province of Périgord. They spoke of a gigantic beast, thirsting for human blood, and soon the legend grew to such a point that the people no longer dared to go out as night was falling, because it was claimed that the monster had even been seen in the very streets of Sarlat itself. The creature killed another good fifteen or so people before both the peasants and the aristocrats, driven to it by fear, organised a beat with more than a hundred rifles. The animal was flushed and killed, and it was stated to be a rabid wolf. Even if this particular animal was killed, its legend remained alive and well throughout the whole region, where they spoke for a good many more years of a bloodthirsty werewolf.”

On his own website, Mikerynos writes

“The Beast of Sarlat terrorised Périgord in the XVIIIth century. Its first appearance dates back to March 1766 when it had already committed around a dozen murders in the neighbouring areas. It is easy to imagine the terror that it provoked. It was from this time that there began the myth of an enormous monster thirsting for human blood. In the month of August 1766, however, the animal was finally identified as a wolf carrying rabies. The ordinary people found it difficult to accept this explanation, and it must be said that in the meantime it had killed at least eighteen more people.
People would see the creature absolutely everywhere, even in the dark alleyways of Sarlat. With fear and anger both reaching their peak, the tales told about  the beast grew to such a level that the good people of the region no longer dared to go out as night fell. From that moment both peasants and aristocrats came together with more than a hundred rifles and organised a beat. The animal was found, tracked and shot. This death was witnessed by so many ecstatic eyes and seemed to have rid the local people for ever of the object of their well justified fears.
We know very well that a wolf or a man with rabies both seem equally overcome with madness, slavering at the mouth, frothing and biting. They are terrifying to see and dangerous to approach. But this only stopped the rumours from spreading, nothing had changed and both in Sarlat and the surrounding area, they still talk of the beast even now as a werewolf.”

At the time in 1766, a broadsheet about the beast was published locally in the province.

broadsheetcccccc

Here is the bottom half with the text. Hopefully, the words are a little clearer….broadsheet   bottom  cccccc Here is a translation of the words you can see, but unfortunately, this is, literally, only half the story. And it seems supremely ironic that on the scan of the front page, you can see some of the print from the back page in reverse, but I cannot find it anywhere on the Internet…

“The curious, remarkable and true tale of the deaths and disorder caused by the ferocious beast, in the area around Sarlat in the Périgord region (of France).
Recently there has been seen in the area around Sarlat in the Périgord region, a ferocious beast, that was considered to be a rabid wolf, but one of an extraordinary size. This ferocious beast roamed, at an incredible speed, over the parishes of Saint-Julien and Grossejac. In vain did a number of the inhabitants of one or the other parish try to put a stop to the depredations of this cruel animal. Between eighteen and twenty people were the sad victims of its fury.
This animal was in complete contrast to the Beast of Gévaudan of which so much has been said; for it seems that the former hated only men whereas the Beast of Gévaudan preferred to attack women. When ready to seize its prey, it put up its hackles, and its eyes became flaming red. It raised itself up on its back legs and tried to seize the victim, sometimes by the face, sometimes by other parts of the head. To stop the ravages of this formidable enemy, whose terrible deeds were already beginning to weigh only too heavily on people, the nobleman Descamps and the gentleman Saint Julien……

Raising itself up on its hind legs, of course, is not normal behaviour for a wolf, animals which nowadays seem to stick firmly to a four legged approach. Flaming red eyes, of course, are not a feature of any known wild animal.

The on-line edition of the newspaper « Sud-Ouest » reports…

“In the XVIIIth century a monster terrorised the south eastern part of the province of Périgord for several weeks. The creature appeared in March 1766 and around a dozen people were killed in the villages around Sarlat. Then was born the myth of an enormous beast thirsting for human blood, like some kind of werewolf.
In the month of August in the same year certain people identified it as a very large wolf infected with rabies. But the population were not reassured by this, especially as in the meantime eighteen other people had been killed. People glimpsed the beast everywhere, even in the dark little lanes of Sarlat. The “population of the village shut themselves away in their houses. Around a hundred people armed with rifles, both peasants and nobles then organised a beat. A rabid wolf was killed. The attacks stopped but the legend lived on, that of a werewolf.”

Its report continues with a device that is known, probably, to newspapers the whole world over. Indeed « Sud-Ouest » could not consider itself a real newspaper if it did not  have that desire to thrill, to terrify and then to sell more newspapers…

« Un loup a-t-il été aperçu en Dordogne ? »
“Has a Wolf been seen in the Dordogne?

 

la-bete-a-ete-prise-en-photo-par-quentin-sarlat-dans-un_1535215_480x300

«This animal was photographed at Saint-Amand-de-Coly. Other people in the immediate area have been seeing it for the last two weeks. According to government sources, the theory of a wolf, however, is not particularly credible and some doubt may be expressed. Quentin Sarlat, aged 20, was coming back from Montignac last Friday and came across this animal in a field at Saint-Amand-de-Coly.

1415216_loup-2409062-1200_800x600p

He took a photograph of it, unlike one of his friends who had already seen it two weeks previously. «At first, the animal was much more distant and then it began to run across the field in my direction only to stop about ten metres away from me. He looked at me for at least thirty seconds, and I did not dare get out of my car. Then the animal went off round the back of the car, without ever taking his eyes off me »

As for Aurélien Viau, the regional head of the Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (The Ministry of Hunting and Wildlife) said that there was little chance that this was a wolf.

«Looking at this photograph, I would say that it’s a dog because the animal is too fat, it’s wearing an orange collar and it does not fear man. But nevertheless we will be going over there to have a look round. »

The collar that the animal is wearing could well be an identification collar, as some method of tagging wolves. On the other hand, it is certainly a wolf which seems to have eaten all the pies.

After this, of course, widescale panic seems to break out and the questions below are suddenly all asked in the newspaper. Nobody seems to notice it is that old strategy….”thrill, terrify, sell”……

Et si le loup revenait dans les forêts de Dordogne ?
“What if wolves came back to the forests of Dordogne?”
Le loup peut très bien recoloniser entièrement le territoire
“The wolf might very well recolonise the entire area”
Environnement : les sentinelles guettent toujours le loup
“Environmental news: a network of guards await the wolf”

And then, AH NON !!!!….

Dordogne : le loup était un husky

“Report from the Dordogne: the wolf was just a husky.”

Most significant of all perhaps is the verdict of the historian Jean-Marc Moriceau who in a newspaper article entirely worthy of our Daily Mail will:

“retrace the blood soaked career of the wolf in France. 8000 dead people in 250 years, and perhaps it isn’t all over yet….”

Perhaps the writer who argued in one of my previous blogposts that the entire French nation was too often guilty of collective hysteria in the face of these much maligned and gentle animals was correct. This website makes « Sud-Ouest » appear almost conservative in its ideas….

LE DIABLE A-T-IL CRÉÉ LE LOUP ?

DID THE DEVIL CREATE THE WOLF  ????

Bonne nuit et dormez bien!

 

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Humour, Science, Wildlife and Nature

The End of the British Empire, December 26th 1913

The very first game of Rugby in the long history of the High School was played on Friday, December 26th 1913, the last Christmas and the last Boxing Day before the outbreak of the Great War. The game took place on the High School’s playing fields at Mapperley Park Sports Ground , used by the school since 1897, when they had left the Forest Recreation Ground which was considered to be too dangerous for boys to play sport there.

This map shows the walk from the High School (which is in the bottom left on the opposite side of the yellow road from the “C” of “Cemy”) down to Mapperley Park in the centre right, indicated by the orange arrow. The present day Games Field, at Valley Road, is the blue word “Day”  in the top left hand corner.

games medium

This map shows the site of the Sports Ground in greater detail. Look for the orange arrow again.

Untitled 2

This is the Pavilion at the Mapperley Park Sports Ground which was demolished only within the last twenty or thirty years . The young men are a long forgotten First XI school cricket team from just a few short years before  the Great War.

pavilionThe gentleman on the left of the back row is Mr.Albert Grant Onion, the groundsman. He coached the High School cricketers with great enthusiasm, and saw many of them go on to do very well with local clubs. In 25 years, he did not miss umpiring a single 1st XI fixture, and was famed for his fairness and impartiality. He and his wife and daughters were responsible, too, for preparing all of the teas for the players. The young man at the other end of the back row is probably the team scorer, who kept an exact record of the game. Alternatively, he may be the reserve player, the so-called twelfth man.

On this occasion though, on Boxing Day, 1913,  it was not a cricket match but a rugby game. As a preliminary before the school’s changeover from Football, which was played from 1870-1914, to the new sport of  Rugby Union, therefore, the Old Nottinghamians played against Notts Rugby F.C.. The Old Boys lost a closely fought game by (three tries) 9 points to (three goals), 15 points. The tries were scored by H.A.Johnstone, C.G.Boyd and D.P.C.Grant. The referee was Mr.Lionel Kirk. Presumably, this fixture served for many people as a demonstration of the new sport.  In the days before television, the majority of Old Boys and Masters, and especially the parents and current pupils, would probably never have seen the game played before.

The Old Boys’ team was Stocks; H.A.Johnstone, H.S.Stocks (Captain), A.Willatt, R.L.W.Herrick, C.G.Boyd, W.Johnstone; D.P.C.Grant, F.Hardwick, J.K.Turpin, A.R.S.Grant, H.W.Ballamy, L.W.Peck, E.G.Hogan and W.S.Facon.

A pleasant interval in the Christmas festivities, one might think, a little respite from a surfeit of roast turkey, brussels sprouts, Christmas pudding, port, sherry, cigars and all the other indulgences of this wonderful time of year. Except that nobody who was there on that fatal Friday knew that a World War was to break out within less than eight months. That more than four years of fighting would leave almost a million British dead, and in that number would be more than three hundred Old Nottinghamians.

In actual fact, the eventual fate of the members of the Old Boys’ Rugby team pretty much defies belief. As well-intentioned, patriotic, decent, optimistic, courageous and athletic young men, they were to run forward into the maelstrom of the Great War as if it were a blood spattered combine harvester.

Henry Archer Johnstone became a Major in the 152nd Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. He was the beloved son of John and Ada Johnstone, of Fairmead, Risley, Derbyshire.

johnstone

Henry was to die on Tuesday, May 21st 1918, at the age of only twenty eight. He is buried in Wancourt British Cemetery near Arras in northern France. His rugby playing days were finally over.

H.S.Stocks, who left the High School in July 1904, was eventually to become a Lieutenant in the 7th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was severely wounded on Friday, July 7th 1916, in the Battle of the Somme, and rendered unfit for further active service. I would certainly have been very surprised if he ever played any more Rugby matches with his young laughing friends.

imagesJ0RY1CA0

John Riversdale Warren Herrick was a Captain in the “2nd King Edward’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles). He was in the 3rd Battalion attached to the 11th Gurkha Rifles when he was fatally wounded on active service in Iraq. The son of Dr.R.W.Herrick and Mrs.Edith Herrick of 30, Regent Street, Nottingham, Captain Herrick was to die from his wounds on Sunday, October 24th 1920 at the age of only twenty seven. He is buried in the Basra War Cemetery, Iraq. His rugby playing days were finally over.

741px-second_battle_of_passchendaele_-_field_of_mud_

Charles Gordon Boyd was a Second Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters, but was attached to the 9th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment. On Thursday, May 3rd 1917, he was killed whilst attacking Fontaine-Les-Croiselles with ‘D’ Company at the age of only twenty four. He was the son of George Herbert Boyd and Sarah Louisa Boyd, of, initially, 13, Tavistock Drive, Mapperley Park. Charles Boyd had been the Captain of the School in 1911-1912. In cricket, he was the First Team’s wicketkeeper and he was an enthusiastic footballer who played regularly for the First Eleven. His full record as a goalscorer was eleven goals in nine appearances. He surely got changed for this particular fixture in his own home nearby and perhaps walked along Tavistock Drive to the pitch in a laughing little group of his fellow players.  At the time of his death, his parents had moved to St Peter’s-in-Thanet, Kent. Tragically, Charles Boyd’s remains were not found until some six years after his death, in November 1923, when he was reburied in the Heninel-Croisilles Road Cemetery in the Pas-de-Calais in northern France. His rugby playing days were finally over.

James Knowles Turpin was the beloved only son of Harry and Minnie Turpin, of 68, Henry Road, West Bridgford. James was a Second Lieutenant in “A” Battery, 241st South Midland Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.

turpin 2

On Tuesday, August 14th 1917, he was killed in action at Boundary Road behind the Brigade HQ at Hill Top Farm near St Jaan just west of the frontline.  he was just twenty five years of age. He was buried in Plot 6, Row D, Grave 7 in Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. His rugby playing days were finally over.

somme_1

Allan Roy Stewart Grant, while he was at school as A.R.S.Grant, was nicknamed “Pongy” by his fellow students, because of his parents’ choice of initials for him. He served as a Captain in the 10th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, Ross-shire, Buffs, and the Duke of Albany’s. He was awarded the Military Cross. “Pongy” survived the conflict and duly returned to Nottingham.

Not so his elder brother, Donald Patrick Clarke Grant, who was in the 7th Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders.  He is listed as either a Lance-Corporal (by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission), or a Lieutenant (in the school lists of the fallen). He was killed on Thursday, April 12th 1917 at the age of only twenty seven. He had previously been the Manager at the British Crown Insurance Office in Nottingham. His remains were never found but his death is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Both young men were the beloved sons of the Reverend John Charles Grant, a Minister of Religion, and his wife Ellen Jemima Grant who lived at “The Manse” at 16, Baker Street, Nottingham. The family was of Scottish origin. Donald had, in actual fact, been born at Loanhead in Midlothian.

Harold William Ballamy was a Lieutenant in “B” Battery of the 231st Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.

ballamy 1234

He was the beloved son of Frederick William Ballamy, a commercial traveller, and his mother,  Mrs.M.A.Ballamy of 17a, Gedling Grove.

ballamy 2

He was killed on either Tuesday, August 14th or Wednesday, August 15th 1917, as part of the Third Battle of Ypres, usually known as the Battle of Passchendaele. He was twenty four years of age, and is buried in Fosse No 10 in the Communal Cemetery Extension at Sains-en-Gohelle,  in the Pas-de-Calais in northern France. His rugby playing days were finally over.

Leslie Wayland Peck was the son of Thomas Wayland Peck, a Clerk in Holy Orders, and a Diocesan Inspector of Schools, who had been, from 1885-1900, a master at the High School. From 1886-1893, despite being a teacher, Peck Senior had played regularly for the school’s First Team at both football and cricket. The family lived initially at 12, Arboretum Street, Nottingham, and then in Gedling Grove. He must certainly have known Harold Ballamy, a near neighbour. Perhaps the two boys used to make the short walk to school every morning, accompanied by Mr Peck. What could have been more embarrassing than walking to school with one of the teachers? Fortunately it was a very short walk. Today it would just necessitate crossing over the tram lines at  the High School tram stop.

Leslie Peck left the High School in June 1910, and joined the Bank, an establishment which was later to change its name to the National Westminster Bank. He had already served in the School Cadet Corps under Captain Trotman, and then joined the Sherwood Foresters Special Reserve. He was called up, and sent to France quite early in the Great War. He was “Mentioned in Dispatches”, but after being extremely badly shell-shocked, was invalided back home for a period of hospital treatment.

H08331 Leslie was then posted back to the Sherwood Foresters, but was never well enough to serve overseas again. I would certainly have been very surprised if he ever played any more Rugby matches with his young laughing friends.

passchendale

M.J.Hogan was the school goalkeeper from 1903-1905. In the Great War he became a Sergeant in the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. He was severely wounded on an unknown date. His goalkeeping days, and his rugby playing days too, were probably over for ever.

hogan 1904

I have been unable to trace anything concrete for W.S.Facon although according to the London Gazette, a Lieutenant W.S.Facon was promoted to Captain on December 21st 1921. The Internet also reveals that in the Air Force List for May 1939, a W.S.Facon worked at the Air Ministry in the Department of the Permanent Under-Secretary in the Directorate of Contracts.

I have been unable to trace either how many of these keen pioneer rugby players had been in the Officer Training Corps, but however many it was, it certainly had not trained them well enough for the Somme (1916) or Passchendaele (1917)

5 Comments

Filed under France, History, Nottingham, The High School

The Christmas Truce (a review, excerpts and my own thoughts)

I have decided to examine the Christmas Truce by quoting the words of the men who were there in that late December of 1914. I found these quotations in a book which I originally bought many years ago when it was first published, I should think, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Christmas Truce in 1994. The book is called, naturally enough, “Christmas Truce” and this is the edition I have…

book
The authors are Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton. The volume is still there on Amazon in an updated edition and I would expect to find it on many other Internet book selling sites. It is a wonderfully written and extremely moving book which I would recommend to you wholeheartedly. It tells so very well the story of a brief poignant moment during the fire and fury of the Western Front. This book certainly inspired me to go deeper into this wonderful event. It is also now available in a more up to date edition, and is required reading for every student of the Great War, of whatever nationality.

new edition

There are many soldiers quoted in the book and I have used a good number of them, with a few abridgements here and there. Quite simply, the tales they told were so moving that I found it virtually impossible to select only a tiny few to use. The book, of course, provides many, many more of them and goes into great detail about what exactly transpired that cold and frosty day in late December 1914. I do hope, though, that you will enjoy these brief extracts from a book that I still look at regularly today, some twenty years after I bought it:

“Several of my chums had been able to get hold of two small Christmas trees complete with candles, to be mounted on the parapet of the trenches, while others dragged planks with them, usually used in the battle against water and mud. As was usual at that time, having settled in the trenches, we just fired the occasional shot from our outposts to let the enemy know we would not let ourselves be surprised.”

*****

On Christmas Eve we got the order to go into the trenches. The day before we had celebrated Christmas in our rest quarters with the civilian people and their children who were presented with chocolate, bonbons and cake. It was all in good humour.
Then at darkness we marched forward to the trenches like Father Christmas with parcels hanging from us. All was quiet. No shooting. Little snow. We posted a tiny Christmas tree in our dugout – the company commander, myself the lieutenant, and the two orderlies. We placed a second lighted tree on the breast work.
Then we began to sing our old Christmas songs “Silent Night Holy Night” and “O Du Fröhliche”, a German Christmas carol.

*****

It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere; and about seven or eight in the evening there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches. And then they sang “Silent night”, “Stille Nacht”. I shall never forget it.  It was one of the highlights of my life. I thought, “What a beautiful tune”.

*****

Suddenly a man from my company reported, “The English are letting off fireworks”. And sure enough across the way from us, the enemy trenches were lit up with fires and rockets and so on. We then made a few banners reading “Happy Christmas” with a couple of candles behind and a couple on top.

*****

I was gazing towards the German lines and thinking what a very different sort of Christmas Eve this was from any I have experienced in the past. In the ordinary way of things, my father would have been making rum punch from an old family recipe, which had been written out by his grandfather, and was kept, of all places, in the Family Bible! Earlier, after the evening meal, we would have decorated the living rooms and hall with traditional greenery, and would now be looking forward to wishing one another a Happy Christmas, and toasting the occasion in the results of my father’s labours. Instead of this, here was I, standing in a waterlogged trench, in a muddy Flemish field, and staring out over the flat, empty and desolate countryside, with no signs of life……
Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently makeshift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles!  Then our opponents began to sing “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht”. They finished their carol so we sang “The First Nowell”, and when we finished they began clapping; and then they struck up another favourite of theirs, “O Tannenbaum”. And so it went on. First the Germans would sing and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up “O come all ye faithful” the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words “Adeste fideles”. And I thought, well, this was really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.

Christmas_Truce_1914_IWM_HU_35801

When I got back to the trenches after dark on Christmas Eve I found the Germans had got little Christmas trees burning all along the parapet of the trench. Meanwhile, unknown to us, two officers  got out of their trench and walked halfway to the German trench and were met by two German officers. They talked away quite civilly and actually shook hands!

*****

I have just been through one of the most extraordinary scenes imaginable. Tonight is Christmas Eve. Firing was going on all the time and the enemy’s machine guns were firing at us. Then about seven o’clock the firing stopped. I was reading the paper and the mail was being dished out. It was reported that the Germans had lighted their trenches up. I went out and they shouted “No shooting” and then somehow the scene became a peaceful one. All our men got out of the trenches and sat on the parapet, the Germans did the same, and they talked to one another in English and broken English. I got onto the top of the trench and talked German and asked them to sing a German folk song, then our men sang and each side clapped and cheered the other. Pope and I walked across and held a conversation with the German officer in command. He presented me to his officer. I gave permission to bury some German dead and we agreed to have no shooting until midnight tomorrow. We talked together, ten or more Germans gathered around. I was almost in their lines within a yard or so. We saluted each other, he thanked me for permission to bury his dead, and we fixed up how many men will do it, and that otherwise both sides must remain in the trenches.

Then we wished one another good night and a Happy Christmas and parted with a salute. I got back to the trench and the Germans sang “Die Wacht am Rhein”. Our men sang “Christians Awake”, and with a good night we all got back into our trenches. It was a lovely moonlight night, the German trenches with small lights on them, and the men on both sides gathered in groups on the parapets. At times we heard the guns in the distance  but about us is absolute quiet. I allowed one or two men to go out and meet a German or two halfway. They exchanged cigars and smoked and talked. The officer I spoke to hopes we should do the same on New Year’s Day. I said “Yes if I am here”.

Trucecigarette

I felt I must sit down and write the story of this Christmas Eve before I went to lie down. If one gets through this show it will be a Christmas Time to live in one’s memory. I am just going for a walk round the trenches to see all is well. Good night.

*****

The Germans came out, and we gravely saluted each other. I then pointed to nine dead Germans lying in midfield and suggested burying them. We gave them some wooden crosses, and soon the men were on the best of terms and laughing.

*****

 There was no firing, so each side began gradually showing more of themselves and then two of their men came halfway and called for an officer. I went out and found they were willing to have an Armistice for four hours and to carry our dead men back halfway for us to bury. Then both sides came out, shook hands, wished each other compliments of the season, and had a chat. A strange sight between two hostile lines.

*****

I was in the 2nd Battalion of the Westphalian Infantry Regiment 15. On Christmas Day, at about eleven o’clock, there was a continuous waving of a white flag from the English trench. Soon afterwards a number of Englishmen climbed out and came towards our front. My commander, Baron von Blomberg, ordered me to find out what the Englishmen wanted. I  went out of the trench and we heard that it was the wish of the Englishman to bury their dead and they asked us to cease enemy action for an adequate period. What were we to do? Time was short. Major von Blomberg therefore decided that there should be a local Armistice until one o’clock in the afternoon, telling the Englishman that their dead must be buried by that time.

*****

We then had a most wonderful joint burial service.  Our padre arranged the prayers and Psalms and an interpreter wrote them out in German. They were read first in English by our padre and then in German by a boy who was studying for the ministry. It was an extraordinary and most wonderful sight. The Germans formed up on one side, the English on the other, the officer standing in front, every head bare. Yes, I think it was a sight one will never see again. The ground between the two lines of trenches was soon swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a Happy Christmas.

Christmas_Truce_1914

“No Man’s Land was full of parties of British and Germans laughing and talking together.
By breakfast time, nearly all our men were between the trenches, and were the greatest pals. In the middle of the war we had a Merry Christmas.”

*****

When morning came both sides shook hands and exchanged gifts. We were given corned beef, tea and cigarettes. They were mad about our cigars. I thought it would be a good idea to get rid of my uniform’s black metal shoulder titles, so I swapped them for very nice German belt with brass buttons and the words “God mitt Uns” on it, and I used that all through the rest of the wall to keep my trousers up.

1304254501_got_mit_uns_by_daliscar-d3fbgkq

I spotted a German officer, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I’d taken a fancy to some of his buttons. We then agreed to do a swap. I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons. I then gave him two of mine. One soldier swapped bully beef for a pointed German helmet.

Pickelhaube

The helmet achieved fame as on the following day a voice called out “I want to speak to the officer.” He continued, “Yesterday I swapped my helmet for the bully beef. I have an important inspection tomorrow. You lend me my helmet, and I will bring it back afterwards.” The loan was made and the agreement kept, sealed with some extra bully beef. I had a drink of rum off one of the Saxons and then I drank his health. He nearly shook my hand off.

*****

All the morning we have been fraternising, singing songs. I have spoken to and exchanged greetings with a colonel, staff officers and several company officers. We have just knocked off a dinner, and have arranged a meeting afterwards.

*****

Captain Berryman came running up with the news that the Germans were out of their trenches  Sure enough I found a number sitting on the parapet of No. 2 Company’s trench, and also out in front of No. 1 Company. They were trying to converse with our men and giving them cigarettes, biscuits and boxes of cigars. As I could speak German I conversed with them. They all belonged to the 16th Regiment. They seemed very jolly as if they had just had a good dinner. One of them said to me that there must be “Friede auf der Erde”,  “Peace on Earth” on this day, being Christmas Day.

xmasPloegstreet-xxxxxxx

In the middle of No Man’s Land I met two English, one Indian and one German officer of the neighbouring company; we shook hands, wished each other a Merry Christmas, and then we exchanged some small presents like plum pudding, cakes, whisky, brandy, and so did our men. For an hour both sides walked about between the two lines of trenches, talking and laughing, swapping tobacco and cigarettes, biscuits etc….You would never believe that we have been fighting for weeks.

truce 1

One of the Germans asked me if I would like to bury a few dead Indians that were lying about their trenches. My chum and I set to work and buried about a dozen of them. All the Germans looked very fit. They were also very well clothed and looked well fed. One of their officers, a captain, clasped his hands together and looked towards heaven and said, “My God, why cannot we have peace and let us all go home!”

*****

A couple of bright sparks from the Staffordshire Regiment appeared – one clad in a tail coat, black trousers, and an old battered silk hat , the other decked out in blouse and skirt, an old bonnet and a broken umbrella. They paraded up and down and were joined by another joker who had found a broken bicycle with almost square wheels, which he trundled up and down. Many of the Germans had costumes on which had been taken from the houses nearby, and one fellow had a blouse, skirt, top hat and umbrella. My own platoon sergeant added a good deal to the Christmas party by going out to meet the Germans wearing a large skirt; this led to some earthy Teutonic byplay and caused plenty of laughs.

standard

We heard them singing and shouting in their trenches, and about midday they began lifting up hats on sticks and then they showed their heads, and then their bodies and finally they climbed out of their trenches into the open! Of course we could not shoot them in cold blood like that. We could hardly believe our eyes; we were just about to open fire when one of our officers gave us the order to unload our rifles. Seeing the Germans without any rifles, we stood up and answered them. Then they started to cheer. One of their men shouted out, “Here’s some cigars for you. Come and fetch them.” They shouted, “Come on, we will not fire on you.” The fellow who threw the cigars then came down off the top of his trench and picked up the box again, and started to walk over towards our trenches. Seeing this I climbed over the parapet of our trench to meet him. When we met in the middle he handed me the cigars and said, “A Happy Christmas to you”. I hardly knew what to do at first, but I shook hands with him and wished him the compliments of the season.
As soon as the Germans saw us shake hands they cheered like mad. They then started to come towards our trench.

indians

Our boys, all Indians by the way, started out to meet them as well. The scene that followed can hardly be described. To see our greatest enemy shaking hands with our Indian troops and giving them cigars and cigarettes was a sight I shall never forget.

Captain, come out, the British have started waving. There is no shooting, and our men are doing the same”. I rushed out and saw a strange unforgettable picture. The soldiers who were standing upright on top of their trenches without their weapons, shouting “Merry Christmas”. Some soldiers had advanced into No Man’s Land. They met in the middle, shook hands, talked and strolled about.…… They were trying to talk to our men and they were giving them biscuits and boxes of cigars.

*****

An officer amused us very much by clearing some soldiers away from his machine gun emplacement, but he finally had his photo taken arm in arm with one of our officers.

*****

Coming across from the German trenches was a solitary German, carrying a white flag high above his head. Having come about halfway he suddenly stopped and waited. Then one of our men went out to meet him, to bring him into our lines. Unfortunately the German had not been blindfolded, and he had to be made a prisoner of war. He protested and was awfully upset, but he had seen behind our lines. (The luckiest man I have heard of for a good while. The whole of 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918 in a British POW camp!)

Christmasxxxxxxx truce

The Germans sent in a party with a white flag. Our bloody fool of a sentry brings one German in without blindfolding him and, of course, he had to be made a prisoner-of-war.

*****

The German officers were taking photographs of mixed groups. One German brought us copies to send to the English newspapers. We  had our photographs taken by a German who was the proud possessor of a small camera. There were Indians and Germans shaking hands when he pulled the shutter.

indians 2
He took a photograph of three of our officers and three of their officers; our officers were placed between theirs. Suddenly one of the Germans ran back to his trench and presently appeared with a large camera. I posed in a mixed group for several photographs. No doubt framed editions of this photograph are now on some German mantelpiece!.

*****

“Dear Mother, I am writing from the trenches. It is 11 o’clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a ‘dug-out’ (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco. Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Haha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the Ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Xmas day, & as I write. Marvellous, isn’t it?”

*****

Suddenly a Tommie came with a football and then began a football match. We marked the goals with our caps. Teams were quickly established and the Fritzes beat the Tommies 3-2.

*****

The regiment actually had a football match with the Saxons, who beat them 3-2.

*****

“A” company played against the enemy with an old tin for a ball: they won 3-2!

*****

Some of our boys tied up a sandbag and used it as a football, while a party of Germans enjoyed themselves sliding on a little frozen pond. Soon there were dozens kicking a made up football about in No Man’s Land.

*****

In the sector of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, “it was recorded that a game was played and according to a letter  published by the Glasgow News, the Scots won by  4–1.

*****

He toured Britain last year with the Leipzig team and beat Glasgow Celtic 1-0. All day we walked to and fro with newspapers and our little photographs and parted, regretting that it was our duty to fight each other.

*****

Men from the 1st Battalion came out from their trenches to play football. The Royal Welch Fusiliers played the German Battalion 371. The Germans won 2–1.

Christmas%20truce%202014-41-124316

As the fog lifted the Germans were playing football. We  climbed out of the trench armed with an entrenching tool handle and a jam tin and played rounders.

*****

We had a football out in front of the trenches and asked the Germans to send a team to play us but it had been freezing all night and it was a ploughed field so their officers stopped them doing it.

*****

A match against a German team (described as “Prussians and Hanovers”) was played near Ypres near the border of Belgium and France.

*****

The Lancashire Fusiliers, based near Le Touquet on the northern French coast, played a match against German soldiers using a ration tin as the “ball”.

*****

Captain Sir Edward Hulse reported “a sing-song which ended up with ‘Auld lang syne’ which we all, English, Scots, Irish, Prussians, Wurttenbergers, etc, joined in. It was absolutely astounding, and if I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked!

*****

The ball appeared from somewhere, I don’t know where, but it came from their side, it wasn’t from our side. They made up some goals and one fellow went in goal and then it was just a general kickabout. I should think there were about a couple of hundred taking part. I had a go at the ball. I was nineteen. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no ill will between us. There was no referee, and no score. It was simply a mêlée. We had a rare old jolly vacation, which included football, in which the Germans took part.

sr_french_marines_01

On Christmas Day 1914 there was an Armistice between us and the enemy. A comrade of our company held up a sign with the inscription “Fröhliche Weinachten” (Merry Christmas). The English immediately responded in like manner. An English soldier shouted to us in imperfect German, asking if we wanted to remove the dead between the lines. We came to an agreement and our men climbed over the parapet, as did some of the English. Afterwards the Englishmen asked us to sing some Christmas songs. An English soldier came towards as and exchanged cigarettes and chocolate. The sight of opposing troops chatting to each other along a stretch of several hundred metres was a very strange one. As darkness fell both sides went back to their trenches. Such attempts at fraternisation have hardly been approved by the High Command; they remain, however, a wonderful testament to the human spirit.

*****

I gave them cigarettes and was given a box of tobacco which I will send home as a souvenir of  the most extraordinary event of the whole war – a soldiers’ truce without any higher sanction by officers and generals. We strolled up and down for about half an hour, shook hands, said goodbye, saluted and returned to our lines.

*****

And finally, the  very best one of all…

It was just the sort of day for peace to be declared. It would have made such a good finale. I should have liked to have suddenly heard an immense siren blowing. Everybody to stop and say “What was that? Siren blowing again: the appearance of a small figure running across the frozen mud and waving something. He gets closer – a telegram boy with a message! He hands it to me. With trembling fingers I open it: “War off, return home – George. King” Cheers! But no, it was a nice, fine day, that was all.

happy_soldiers_wwi

For me the Christmas Truce has always been the most wonderful achievement ever by ordinary working-class men, many of whom would never have even seen a German or an Englishman before the Great War broke out. And despite all the appalling self-serving jingoism in the newspapers, after just four months of  slaughter, both armies of ordinary men were ready to recognise that they had far more in common with their so-called enemies than they might previously have been allowed to know. The warmth and humanity of these men shines through still, even a century after the event. “Merry Christmas” or should I say “Fröhliche Weinachten”?

SportTo commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the impromptu football matches played in No Man’s Land during the Christmas Truce of December 1914, both English and German football supporters have come together this year, 2014, in the spirit of Christmas friendship. The highlight of the weekend-long meeting was a seminar entitled “The Referee”.

English supporters were able to show their German friends how it is possible for the referee to award a goal even though a tiny and almost insignificant proportion of the ball may not have completely crossed the line.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our German friends were able to show how a referee, if he decides the ball is of the wrong colour or has been made by the wrong manufacturer, can refuse to award a goal, even though the ball may have crossed the line by several metres.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At the end of a wonderful day of comparing beers and consuming Christmas food, a collection was taken to fund methods of helping the referees of England-Germany games during the next century.

zzzzzz   guide_dog_

Leave a comment

Filed under France, History, Personal, Politics

A very strange duck

(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)
Monday, September 19, 1988
Paul and Steve have told me of a very strange duck, down on the River Trent at Attenborough, to the south west of Nottingham. Look for the orange arrow…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because of this, I make sure that I take the Sixth Form Birdwatching Group down there for a quick look round during our birdwatching afternoon. And indeed, when we do find the bird, it does turn out to be a bit of a puzzler. First of all, it is completely alone on the river, while all the other ducks are on the main lake. This is a very good start in proving that it is a rare bird, blown across the stormy waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the USA. Everybody knows that rare birds always keep well separate from any strange foreigners they are suddenly brought into contact with. It’s because vagrants are shy, uncertain of themselves and take a very long time to make friends., They may not speak English. They may be afraid of being eaten.

Superficially, the stranger is all brown, rather like a female Tufted Duck, but it’s not a definite Tufted Duck because the head shape is wrong.

female-tufted-duck-xxxxxxxx

Instead of a tuft, or the basis of a tuft, the bird has a rounded head like a Greater Scaup.

greater_scaup-hen-wave-xxxxxxx

It’s not a Greater Scaup either though, because the head shape is not right for that species either. Instead of a completely rounded head like a Greater Scaup, it has a little peaked crown, rather like the head shape of Ring-necked Duck.

ring-necked-duck-fzzzzzzzzzz

The basic drab brown, chocolaty colour of our bird’s plumage and the absence of any eye ring markings means, as far as I’m concerned, though, that it cannot be a Ring-necked Duck either. I hesitate between the two ends of the spectrum. Either, at one end, we are looking at yet another hybrid duck, because duck species all interbreed in a most alarming way. Or, we are breaking new ground in the glorious history of Nottinghamshire birdwatching, and it is a juvenile, or female, or eclipse, Lesser Scaup, which would be a first for Britain. Even then, this would not be, however, the first claim for this American species of bird in the county despite its almost unbelievable rarity…

At the other end of the spectrum, the more likely solution, and the easiest cop out is to say is that it is a hybrid, the fate of at least two of the county’s previous claims. But a hybrid of what? Scaup and Lesser Scaup? Tufted Duck and Ring-necked Duck?

Still, it was a bit of excitement on an otherwise dreary day. And indeed – why should a female Lesser Scaup be impossible at Attenborough, while a male, the first ever seen in Britain, is  acceptable at Chasewater, only some fifty miles away?

If I had my time over again, I would have made a bigger effort to ascertain two things, one relatively easy, the other much more difficult. It would have been reasonably easy to have checked the extent of any white areas at the base of this puzzling bird’s bill. The photographs above show how important this detail might have been. Nowadays, getting on for thirty years later,  I quite simply cannot remember, although that very fact in itself would imply that the white cannot have been either unbelievably bright or striking to the observer. Secondly, I would have tried to establish the exact size of this duck, something which would have been very difficult to do as it did not go near any other birds at any point during its stay on the River Trent. Alas, now I shall never know what it was, although it really did seem very strange at the time that it adamantly refused to mix with any other species of duck.    

By 2007, there had been just under a hundred records of Lesser Scaup in Great Britain with virtually every county having played host to the more easily identifiable  male at some point. There had been females but these were admittedly in limited numbers. Here is an Irish female at Rostellan Lake.

irish femaile xxxxx

It is now generally agreed by birdwatchers that Lesser Scaup has never been an incredibly rare vagrant, just a species that was very difficult to identify.

1 Comment

Filed under Humour, Nottingham, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

A Twitch to Flamborough

(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

Sunday, August 28, 1988
The sea again. Its magic lure drags Steve, Alan, Paul and me off to seawatch, anywhere on the East Coast where, according to the weather forecasts, the wind should be suitable for our porpoise (as the spell check suggested). We decide to go to some place where we can seawatch but where there is also another specific bird to look for. In that case, we must head for Flamborough where there have been reports of a Desert Wheatear although there are no details to hand of either its exact location or its plumage. We arrive at about 8.30 a.m. and there is a lovely light foggy drizzle drifting around the cliff tops. Not too pleasant for the birdwatchers but brilliant for keeping down any lost little vagrant passerine.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are other birdwatchers around, all looking for the relevant little bird. We find a somewhat peculiar female wheatear within half an hour, and then another, and another. We soon realise that all female wheatear are somewhat peculiar. None of them seem to have a consistent set of plumage features that they have in common with all the other female wheatears.

northern 3ccccccccc

Nothing for it. We set off down to the lighthouse for a sea watch. Same old place as ever – we set up our telescopes on the slope below the main cliff edge and start watching. No sign of Flamborough’s most famous birdwatcher, its very own “Mr.Sea Watch”, Brett Richards.

twitcher6

There are some Arctic Skuas moving through and we are able to study their piratical antics in some detail. After about ten minutes I see one all dark bird flying steadily and heavily northwards. Then it seems to remember its error and sweeps back around in a huge arc. Then it starts flying around in very large circles as if it is by now completely confused. On the other hand, it could be some vaguely half remembered display flight of some sort.

Pomarine Skua 4vvvvvvvvv

Whatever the case, it finally stops its circling, makes a half-hearted attempt to harry a Kittiwake and then heads off out to sea. We all pick the bird up and we all agree that at long last, we’ve seen a Pomarine Skua. It’s bigger than all the Arctic Skuas and it’s obviously not a Great Skua. Its flight is heavier than an Arctic and its behaviour is completely different. Every Arctic we have seen today has been energetically and enthusiastically chasing Kittiwakes in a most agile and nimble way. They are all darting, lightly built birds that at no point have shown the slightest inclination to soar or circle like some marine Common Buzzard.
Ten minutes later I find another large and heavy skua but this time, it’s down on the water. Again, its structure is much more solid than the Arctics, its bill is more substantial, its body weightier, and it even has what may well be rudimentary spoons sticking up into the air at the back end.

pom on seacccccc

We watch it for a good twenty minutes as it cruises around, well separate from the rest of the birds on the water. We are all satisfied that it is a first winter dark phase Pomarine Skua.
If we think we’ve had a difficult time of it with bird identification so far, then we are sadly mistaken. In the next half hour or so, we’re going to get into very deep water indeed and I don’t mean falling off the cliff.
We still have the best part of a sunny afternoon left so we decide to walk slowly round to see what we can turn up in the way of migrants. It’s really rather pleasant. A nice day, a blue sky and the hope that more or less anything might be out there for us to find it. We turn up any number of Northern Wheatears, both male and female and a Short-eared Owl, that looks very pale and which we try very determinedly to turn into a Barn Owl, but without any success, because in the final analysis, we just can’t ignore those dark carpal patches. We stop at the top of the cliffs, a little way south of the lighthouse at a point about fifty feet or so above the sea. There are lots and lots of wheatears here, flitting around, most of them near some kind of ruined wooden landing stage.

northrbqqqqqqqqqq

Alan soon spots what he thinks is a funny wheatear and we all set up scopes to examine it more closely. The first and most obvious feature about it is that its eye stripe is not as fully developed as the other birds. It seems to be more buffy, even russetty, in colour and seems to begin further back on the head, almost behind the eye itself.

desert 2ccccccc

The bird, a female, is obviously tired and is harried and picked on by all the other birds. Nevertheless it keeps returning to the landing stage steps and eventually begins to preen. That’s when we realise two interesting things about the bird. Firstly, its tail, as far as we can see, is completely black and although it has a smallish area of white in the top two corners, this is really no more than a slight curvature of the line between the white rump and the black tail. It is completely different from the T-shaped pattern that we have been looking at all day, more or less, on all the other Wheatears. Indeed, we’ve even noticed that with every Northern Wheatear that we’ve seen, this T-shaped pattern may even be visible when the bird is at rest. Not the case with this bird.

Desert-Wheatear-0bbbbbbbbb

The second feature, and for me, the one that clinches it as a female Desert Wheatear, is the fact that as the bird lifts its wing to preen, it reveals a snowy white underwing which is absolutely and totally white, except for a darker line on what must be the trailing edge. For weeks after this I look at Northern Wheatears and cannot find a single one, either in real life or in photographs, that comes even close to our mystery bird in the whiteness of this underwing. There is not a hint of brown or buff, just a brilliant white like a patch of bright fresh snow.
This bird, however, is not terrifically distinctive except for these two features and the eye stripe. This differs slightly from the Northern Wheatear but, in truth, if there is supposed to be a major difference in basic plumage, then there just isn’t one. It is perhaps a little peachier in colour but is not really fundamentally different from the Northern Wheatears that continue to chase and harry it. It is at this point that our problems start, because, as I later suspect, the mystery bird flies off without our noticing it, perhaps because the cliff is overhanging at this point and there is a vast area underneath it that we cannot see. It is certainly impossible to see the comings and goings of every single bird.

norethern flight ccccc

A few seconds later, a Wheatear of indeterminate species comes to perch on the landing stage, just as our bird has on several occasions in the past few minutes. A small crowd of some ten or twelve  birdwatchers has by now assembled, all trying to see whatever we’re looking at but apparently too shy just to ask us. We lead them to believe that this is the mystery bird even though we have not yet seen either its tail or underwing to confirm this. When the bird flies away, of course, it has the T-shaped pattern of an ordinary Northern Wheatear and this leads a high percentage of the new onlookers to think that we are a bunch of complete village idiots. Well, we are, but on the other hand, I know what I saw. And yes, I am more than a little put off by the episode at the end when I was fooled by the Northern Wheatear on the landing stage, but Steve soon calms me down.  He makes the valid point that whatever has happened subsequently, we did all four of us see a female Wheatear with an all-black tail, and an all-white underwing, whatever antics the bird got up to afterwards and whatever skilfully designed imposter came along its place. And surely even the most aberrant of birds could not have two diagnostic features of another species? That discovery would knock the Rarities’ Committee back a bit.
The whole appalling business does have its funny side however, because as soon as the assembled group of eight or ten becomes fifteen or twenty, this is easily a big enough crowd, particularly here at tight-lipped rare-bird-suppressing Flamborough, to attract an even greater number of birdwatchers. Very quickly, we have seventy or so people, all looking downwards with great deliberation.

Somebody on duty in the lighthouse then presumably thinks that one of us has had an accident and perhaps somebody has fallen off the cliff. Perhaps we are all looking at a corpse floating past. Whatever the case, it doesn’t take the RAF Rescue helicopter very long to get here and it soon arrives, a huge  deafening yellow whale that hangs, hovering loudly, about twenty yards from the cliff edge. I can’t really believe it’s here for an unconfirmed report of a female Desert Wheatear. News cannot possibly travel that fast. On the other hand, it would be really tremendous if that were the case and he could use the loudhailer – the electronic equivalent of Kevin’s voice:

“Hey, you on the cliff – yes – you – you on the left – in the green – yes – stop harassing that bird – return to your homes – and by the way, do you know they what they’ve had at Spurn?”

Rescue-Helicoptercccccccccc

Our final gesture is a last bit of seawatching as we give up hope that our Desert Wheatear will return to its original spot and we soon get a superb bit of unusual bird behaviour.

Guillemot06cccccc

It’s a Guillemot that is performing some bizarre sort of preening ceremony that seems to consist solely of the bird lying flat on its back in the water, with only its beak and its little legs sticking out above the surface. It remains motionless for minutes on end so that it looks just like a man bathing in the Dead Sea or a gigantic dead fly floating around in the bath. A strange end to a puzzling day.

3 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Humour, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

Schweinfurt Two: sixty B-17s downed, 650 airmen killed

I hope that you were able to read my blog post about the American Eighth Air Force’s first raid on the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt. This brave action took place on August 17th 1943, and was a catastrophe. As I wrote a few weeks ago…

“The raid caused a 34 per cent loss of production at Schweinfurt but this was soon made up for by surplus supplies from all over Germany The industry’s infrastructure, while vulnerable to a sustained campaign, was not vulnerable to destruction by a single raid.”

I quoted the casualty figures…

“230 bombers had taken part, and sixty of these were destroyed. Five hundred and fifty two men were killed in the air, and seven poor souls made it back home, but, alas, had already succumbed to their injuries. Twenty one men were badly wounded. Beyond the sixty B-17s shot down, between 55-95 further aircraft were badly damaged. Of these many were too severely damaged ever to be repaired.”

Despite these huge losses, the Eighth Air Force plan had always been to go back to Schweinfurt a second time. It was to take the best part of two months to rebuild their forces, but on October 14th 1943, the B-17s returned to attack the factories where, at the time, American wartime intelligence thought ball bearing production had been permanently reduced by up to a third.
This time, changes would be made. Instead of a two-pronged attack on the ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt aircraft works at Regensburg, the entire force would attack Schweinfurt alone.

2 photos contrails

Secondly, additional fighter escorts were added to protect the vulnerable bombers as much as was possible during both the outward and return journeys of the operation. Each of the three bomber wings, therefore, was to be escorted by multiple squadrons of P-47 Thunderbolts. For an unknown reason, though, none of the P-47s were equipped with drop tanks, an important mistake which significantly limited their escort range. And one outfit of fighters previously allocated to the Flying Fortresses was given the job of acting as an escort to the 29 B-24 Liberator bombers on a diversionary mission to Emden.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At first, though, things went quite well. When the bombers were initially intercepted as they crossed the coast the P-47s succeeded in shooting down seven Bf 109s. But over the Netherlands the P-47s came to the end of their range and the B17s were left alone and virtually defenceless.  Large numbers of Focke-Wulf FW 190s and Messerschmitt Bf 109s  made repeated attacks exactly as they had done in August. The 305th Bomb Group lost 13 of its 16 B-17s in just a few minutes. Further into Germany, this second Schweinfurt Raid would soon follow the same pattern as the first one.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As well as single engined fighters, twin engined Messerschmitt Bf110s and Junkers Ju88s were encountered. They carried much heavier cannon.

two by two

This time, many more aircraft were armed with Werfer-Granate 21 rocket launchers, firing unguided stand-off rockets.

two rockets

Here are two wonderful pictures from the Life Magazine of  the day, showing the heroic efforts of the brave young Eighth Air Force gunners.

As in August, although the ball-bearing factories were badly hit, the mission did not achieve any long lasting effects. Ball bearing production was halted for around six weeks but these losses were again easily made up by the large stocks the Germans already had. After this second attack, all of the ball bearing facilities were dispersed from Schweinfurt across the whole of Germany to reduce the risk of their being bombed for a third time.
General “Hap” Arnold claimed that “Black Thursday” and its losses were just incidental, but daylight bomber raids deep into Germany without fighter escort were suspended until further notice. Cynics might well have asked just how many B-17s did the Eighth Air Force have left on strength anyway?
Long distance bombing raids would only recommence in February 1944 with the advent of Operation Argument, a series of missions later to be called the “Big Week”. By then, escorts were available in the form of P-51B Mustangs.

Arnold’s “incidental losses” on the second Schweinfurt raid were astounding. Of the 291 B-17s on the mission, 60 were shot down over enemy territory.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Another 17 bombers were damaged so heavily that they had to be scrapped. A further 121 B-17s were damaged to a greater or lesser extent and many of the crippled bombers would require a great deal of time and effort to repair them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These B-17 losses represented more than 26% of the attacking force. The losses of aircrew were equally devastating, with 650 men killed out of 2,900, some 22% of the bomber crews. Certain units were hugely affected. The 306th Bomb Group lost 100 men, with 35 either killed in the air or died of wounds and 65 made Prisoners of War. The 305th Bomb Group lost 130 men with 36 killed outright. This constituted 87% of their complement.

fighting man

My own father, Fred, even if he seems never to have had a great deal of contact with the Americans of the Eighth Air Force, always had enormous respect for their almost unbelievable bravery. Some thirty years after the war, as I returned from university, Fred was to accompany me, one dull autumn day, on a visit to the American Cemetery at Madingley near Cambridge.

Cambridge_American_Cemetery_and_Memorial

How strange to think that these neatly kept graves may well have been the last resting place of some of the brave young airmen he had watched flying high above him in the frosty blue sky of East Anglia so many years previously.

If your navigational skills are up to it, this is Part One of a ten film series about  the Schweinfurt raid.

In another blog post, I will look at what the Eighth Air Force did after the two disastrous raids on Schweinfurt, and how their airmen’s lives were saved, and arguably the Second World War was won, thanks to Ronnie Harker, a New Zealander who at the time was working at Hucknall in Nottinghamshire, just six miles to the north west of where I am sitting right now as I write the conclusion to this post.

9 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History

Murderer strung up for 67 years. It’s not enough !!!

Scrooby is a country village in the north of the county of Nottinghamshire.

Just to the north of the village, a toll-house used to exist on what was then called “The Great North Road”.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On July 3rd 1779, it was the scene of two truly horrendous and violent murders.

In this largely rural and peaceful community, the tolls were always collected by Scrooby’s toll-bar keeper, William Yeadon. On the date of the slayings, William Yeadon, was being visited by his middle aged mother, Mary Yeadon. This particular evening, he had been playing cards with John Spencer, a man from the village of North Leverton with Habblesthorpe.  After the Yeadons had gone to bed, however, Spencer returned to the toll-house in the early morning and attempted to steal the money that had been collected as tolls the previous day. Gaining re-admittance to the building under a pretence that a drove of cattle wished to pass that way, Spencer then tried to carry off the strongbox under the cover of darkness, but unfortunately for everyone concerned he made far too much noise. Later it was thought that he had carelessly rattled the coins in the old wooden box too loudly. Mary and William were made immediately aware of what Spencer was trying to do, but the latter reacted with extreme violence…

“In a most barbarous manner he fractured their skulls by repeated blows with a heavy hedge stake.”

Spencer seized the money and then made the best of his opportunity to ransack the house. The murderer was interrupted by travellers as he dragged one of the bodies across the road to dispose of it in the nearby River Ryton. He was arrested shortly thereafter by a search party, but managed to escape. After he was apprehended for a second time, Spencer was taken to Nottingham and put on trial soon afterwards at the Shire Hall in High Pavement.
There was, of course, only one possible outcome, and Spencer was duly found guilty, taken on foot up to Gallows Hill and hanged on July 16th 1779.

3716238That was not the end of it though, as the rest of his sentence was that Spencer be taken to the scene of his crime in Scrooby, and

“to have his body hung in chains with the hedge stake in his right hand… near the place where the awful deed was perpetrated, on the gibbet post, near the Scrooby Toll-Bar”.

This was after his corpse had been liberally smeared with pitch and tar.

H in chains

These gruesome steps were taken “in accordance with the express words of his sentence”. More horror was to follow however, as I discovered as I sat on evening flicking through my back copies of “The Armagh Guardian” newspaper. In the June 9th 1846 edition I found an interesting account which was itself quoting the “Doncaster Chronicle”…

“After the lapse of a few weeks, a party of soldiers conveyed a deserter passing by the place, the sergeant fired his carbine, loaded with ball, at the corpse, and hit it, which caused a stench, almost unbearable for several days afterwards. The circumstances becoming known, the party was followed, and the sergeant taken, and on being subsequently tried by Court-martial he was found guilty and degraded on the ranks. Years rolled on, and the body gradually became less and less, until nothing was left but the chains which originally shackled it, and these in course of time fell and were secretly conveyed away. For several late years the post, with its withered and weather-beaten arm, was the only vestige left of that deed of blood which sixty-seven years ago filled the minds of the inhabitants of the surrounding districts with horror. But Time, which levels all terrestrial objects with his corroding breath, had for years past been gradually gnarling this once loathing stump to its core, and on the 15th of April 1846 actually accomplished his task, and it fell to rise no more.”

On the other hand, what is reputed to be the upright of the ancient Scrooby gibbet is currently preserved in Doncaster Museum.

Not surprisingly, after the murderer’s decaying body had been left dangling for so many years…

“the creaking cage and bleaching bones occasioned the haunting of the place by either disturbed spirits, or morbid sight-seers”

The hill, in Spencer’s honour, still keeps its name of “Gibbet Hill”. Nearby is the modern “Gibbet Hill Lane”. Nowadays, of course, Spencer’s rotting bones have been replaced by an owl sanctuary and a garden centre. What may conceivably have been the original toll-house, the scene of this dastardly crime, is still visible on the A638 leading north from the village, just before its junction with the green road.

map with gibbet hill

1 Comment

Filed under Criminology, History, Nottingham