Monthly Archives: January 2015

In memory of those who perished in the Holocaust

This is an extract from the history of the High School which I have been writing recently:

Tuesday and Wednesday, March 29th and 30th 2005

Organised by the Reverend Stefan Krzeminski, over the course of two days, the whole of Year 9 had the privilege of visiting what is now the National Holocaust Centre near Ollerton in north Nottinghamshire.

In past years the boys had been able to listen to the testimony of Arek Hersh, but on this occasion the speaker was Josef Perl ….

“It was not long before the train stopped and the front wagons pulled up at a platform. The people inside, who had clearly come directly from their homes, were marched away and disappeared down some steps straight to the gas chambers. We were in Auschwitz.

The doors of our wagons were unlocked and we had to jump down. There was a smartly dressed commandant deciding who would live and who would die.

Waving his riding crop, he indicated “links oder recht” (left or right) with a casual flick of the wrist. Those he sent to the left (over 70 per cent) went immediately to the gas chambers, those to the right had been selected, either for work or for experimentation.

It was Dr Mengele.”

I myself well remember hearing this chilling story of an encounter with the Angel of Death. At lunch, I was able to ask the question about concentration camps which had burned in my mind for years, namely, “Why, if you were all going to die anyway, didn’t you fight back and kill the Germans?”

Mr Perl answered my question and then asked me that, as a teacher, I should tell as many people as possible exactly what had happened in the Holocaust, so that it could never happen again.

I have never forgotten Josef Perl, or his request. Once again, therefore, I am happy, if that is the word, to do exactly as he asked.

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Filed under History, Nottingham, Personal, The High School

The Luftwaffe comes to Cornwall (and stays there)

For many, many, years, we have spent our summer holidays in Cornwall, in the very westernmost part, which is called Penwith, and where the major town is Penzance, the birthplace of the pioneer chemist, Humphry Davy. Ten miles or so to the north west of Penzance is the even smaller town of St Just. Just look for the orange arrow:

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In the nineteenth century, there were any number of tin mines around the town, which is made up for the most part of stone buildings with slate roofs.

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It has a beautiful ancient parish church with its centuries old frescoes of Christ and St.George.

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There is also the old battleflag of an old Great War battleship.

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Nearby is the medieval “Plen an Gwarry”, which is a small area of open grass, used for watching plays or sporting contests or perhaps just for relaxation.

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As you relax, you might want to eat a pasty or a pie from Mcfaddens, who are often quoted as making the best Cornish pasties in the world. The day I took these photographs, they had sold out. Fortunately, they do mail-order, although the pasties will not always be piping hot.

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St Just also hosts its popular Lafrowda Festival, a community and arts celebration that lasts for seven days.

There is the old bank, with its many changes of owner and cryptic lettering.

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More subtly famous is the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel which was built in the first half of the nineteenth century. It is an enormous stone building, and I remember reading somewhere that, as vast numbers of impoverished Cornishmen were forced to emigrate overseas, given its position so close to the cliffs of Land’s End, this building was usually the very last thing that thousands of emigrants saw as they set off towards the mines of the USA, Canada, Australia or South America.

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Some of the very best and most spectacular cliff scenery is at either Carn Gloose or the nearby Cape Cornwall. This is the Brisons, a pair of storm battered sea stacks.

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It was here that a very, very lost Steller’s Sea-lion lived in the late 1980s and 1990s. It should have been living in Eastern Siberia or Western Alaska.

 

Every time that I have ever driven down Cape Cornwall Road to look at the cliffs or to watch the fierce ocean storms, I have always looked up at the old Methodist School on the left, to check that the conspicuous gap on the ridge of the roof is still there.

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From a tourist leaflet that I read many years ago, I know very well that, during an air raid in the Second World War, this gap was caused by a German bomber in its last few seconds before it crashed into Chapel Road.

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This year I decided to research the story more extensively, so I called in at the library in St Just, where the helpful staff tried very hard to check any references to this event in the books of their Local Collection. They were unfortunately unable to find anything but, not for the first time I suspect, they contacted long time St Just resident, John Harry, who came round to the library straightway to recount the full story. Mr Harry told me that the events had taken place in the autumn or winter of 1942.

As a little boy, he was always very excited indeed when the St Just air raid warning was sounded, and he always had to be dragged very reluctantly up to bed. In their home in Chapel Street, the family had a simple home-made air raid shelter downstairs in the kitchen. It consisted for the most part of a rather robust kitchen table which, in theory, should be able to withstand the majority of shocks which an air raid might cause. On most occasions, though, John’s aging grandmother would refuse to get inside it, but instead, ostrich like, would merely stick her head underneath.

This particular night, they could hear distant gunfire, which gradually grew louder and louder. Some kind of aerial dogfight was clearly taking place, as they could all hear the noise of aircraft engines, machine guns and a series of explosions. Granny kept shouting “We’ll all be killed! We’ll all be killed!”, but her daughter replied, “Be quiet! Don’t keep saying that! You’ll frighten the child!”.

“The child” himself thought that it was all extremely exciting, and was clapping his hands in sheer glee. Suddenly, there was a huge crash. John shouted, “We’re winning! we’re winning!”. Auntie went upstairs to see what was happening. She looked out of the bedroom window. Below her, she could see flames down in the street. “All of Chapel Street is on fire!”, she shouted, “All St Just is ablaze !”

The stricken bomber had destroyed two houses, but fortunately, nobody was injured. The first house was owned by an old lady, but she had gone away to her daughter’s for a two week holiday.

The other house was a second home for the newly married Mr and Mrs Vague. (sic) They did not normally bother to use their air raid shelter, but on this particular evening, their cat had kept making a huge fuss, walking repeatedly backwards and forwards from the bedroom to the shelter. In an effort to keep the cat quiet therefore, the two of them finally moved down to the air raid shelter. From this place of safety, they were able to feel their house shaking as if it were an earthquake.

When it was safe to do so, both Mr and Mrs ran to the emergency shelter in the St Just Town Hall. All they possessed at this moment were their night clothes. In later years, though, of course, Mr and Mrs Vague would dine out regularly on the fact that they had had their lives saved by the cat.

The next morning, more than half the town was cordoned off by the Home Guard. Hundreds of windows had been blown out by the explosions. On the Methodist School (look for the orange arrow), huge numbers of tiles had been knocked off.

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Fragments of the crashed plane were everywhere. In the nearby village of Kelynack, some mile and a half away, (see the previous map after Paragraph One), one member of the German crew had landed by parachute. He had a broken leg, and, a forlorn figure, he was duly arrested by Mr.Matthews, the owner of a small local farm. The rest of the crew, three men, sadly, were all killed.

In a house in Cape Cornwall Street, a woman stepped forward in the darkness to open the bedroom curtains. She tripped over a German’s dead body, which had been blown in through the window. A few days later, in another house in the town, a frightened woman was to find a German’s leg on the top of her wardrobe.

And for a very long time afterwards, John Harry was too frightened to leave his mothers’ side.

Even now, though, at nearly eighty years of age, John was still unaware of where the three dead Germans were buried. And seventy years ago, his mother had been equally unable to ascertain their final resting place. Equally unsuccessful was her friend, who was actually a member of the local Home Guard. Indeed, at the time, everybody in St Just was curious about where the dead Germans were. They kept asking the Home Guard, who always replied with the same “Dunno”. It was thought, however, that some of them did know, but they were just not saying.

My own researches have been equally unsuccessful. I was unable to find the Germans’ last resting place either in the cemetery at St Just, or in the war graves section of Penzance Cemetery. Subsequent inquiries, however, reveal that most German war dead at this time were taken to the German Cemetery on Cannock Chase, and that after the end of hostilities, many of them were then re-interred in Germany. Let’s hope so. It is certainly a very long way from the frequently wet, windy and misty West Penwith to whatever churchyard in Germany where they rightfully belong.

The two destroyed houses were never rebuilt. Instead they were replaced by a row of garages. When the foundations for these buildings were being dug, the workmen found Mr.Vague’s gold watch.

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Amazingly, this was not the only air raid on tiny St Just. On another occasion, the Luftwaffe bombed Holman’s Foundry, which produced munitions for the Allied Forces, down in the Tregeseal Valley. Ironically, Mrs Holman had herself been born in Germany. She had originally come over to England around 1900 as a governess, and then married into a local family.

This particular bombing attack was actually mentioned in one of his broadcasts by Lord Haw Haw. He said, in very sinister and threatening fashion, “Don’t think we have forgotten you, St Just. You have not been forgotten.”

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The foundry’s owner, Ken Olds, lived in a house right next to the foundry. At the height of the bombing raid, when the grandparents went to look for the baby, they found that he was no longer in the bedroom. In actual fact, he had been blown out of the window, and they found him in the front garden. He was still in his cot, fast asleep and completely unharmed. Nearby houses had lots of cracks caused by the explosion of the bombs. In later years, this seems to have led to large scale subsidence, and all of the houses eventually had to be demolished. So too the foundry itself had to come down, and it was replaced by a housing estate.

I was genuinely surprised that after seventy years that it was still possible to talk to an eyewitness of all these amazing events. I will never forget my afternoon spent in the company of John Harry. He is a most charming man, and an amazing source of knowledge of the St Just area, the people who have lived there, and the people who live there still.

Subsequent, subsequent, subsequent researches on the Internet have now revealed the excellent website of Shauney Strick whose hobby is “The History of World War 2 in Penwith, Cornwall:Uncovering the evidence with a metal detector”.

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With his metal detector, Mr.Strick recently uncovered several small parts of a Luftwaffe aircraft buried in West Place, St.Just. (see street map above). The various objects of wreckage were from a Dornier Do. 217E, aircraft U5+1H of 1Staffel KG 2, which had crashed on September 27th 1942 as it made its way towards Penzance, after being pursued and shot down by a Bristol Beaufighter Mark IF of 406 Squadron from RAF Predannick. The Beaufighter was  flown by Squadron Leader Denis Chetwynd Furse with Pilot Officer John Haddon Downes as his radio operator.  

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One additional detail was that one of the diesel engines from the stricken bomber flew an enormous distance before smashing through three garden walls in West Place. 

As I mentioned above, my search for the final resting place of the Luftwaffe bomber’s crew led me to Penzance Cemetery, where, although I did not have any success with the Dornier, I did find that the World War II graves there had some very interesting, and very, very sad tales to tell. But that, as they say, is for another time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, History, Humour

Two local twitches

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

Monday, September 5, 1988

Another walk around my local patch, Netherfield  Sludge Pits, the Cape May of the Nottinghamshire gravel pits complex. (see the orange arrow)

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Once again, it turns up the big one, with immediate and excellent views of Sedge Warbler, and a male Reed Bunting in the same fifteen yards of hedge.

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At the side of the path, there is a little flock of fifteen or twenty Yellow Wagtails and over the main lake, a Common Tern.

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They used to nest on the little island, until it was submerged by the rising tide of slurry from the local coalmine. Knocking around the fields are a Kestrel, some Jackdaws and a few Stock Doves.

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On one of the smaller pools, Mute Swans have bred.

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They have produced several cygnets, but don’t worry, the anglers lead shot will soon put a stop to that. It’s amazing to think that Curlew used to breed here fifty years ago, and that, at this very site, Black-winged Stilts nested just after the Second World War.

A flock of finches here once contained an Ortolan Bunting and Little Bunting travelling together, and just after the Second World War, there was an apparent family  group of Gull-billed Terns come through, .

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Today, there are three Great Black-backed Gulls, and a Herring Gull.

That’s what the destruction of habitat is all about.

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Wednesday, September 7, 1988

An evening trip this time. A local birdwatcher has told me about a superb new place that attracts wonderful birds by Nottinghamshire’s normal standards. It’s a couple of flooded meadows down by the River Trent at Stoke Bardolph (now, alas, with houses built on them). Look for the orange arrow:

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For some reason, the farmer has allowed the fields to flood, and for an even more obscure reason, he has permitted them to remain flooded. Waders in unprecedented numbers have been attracted for a short stopover as they fly south down the Trent Valley to Africa. Previously, I would only have thought of Stoke Bardolph for the incredible stink of the sewage works that are down there, but this is really something else. It’s just like a hide at Cley-next-the-Sea, with Curlew Sandpipers, Spotted Redshanks, a dozen or so Dunlin and some Greenshanks.

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There is  a single stint, which causes us a little excitement as Steve and I try very hard to turn it into a Temminck’s Stint.

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But it must, unfortunately, stay as a Little Stint. Still, it was a good try.

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The only negative thing about the whole evening is the failure of the Hobby to appear at the appointed time.

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There is at least one, if not two, birds in the area, and it, or they, often hunt over the woodland on the opposite side of the river. It’s even been seen knocking around in the gardens of neighbouring Burton Joyce, a riverside village. Tonight, though, there’s nothing.
Never mind – it’s a really brilliant wader site for somewhere as far from the coast is this. What a pity, therefore, that only a few months later, despite the impassioned pleas of a number of different conservation bodies, the farmer  should plough up the land without compunction, and what could have been a brilliant inland nature reserve is lost forever. So much for a democratic society. We are about as democratic as the Democratic Republic of East Germany is democratic. If you own the land, you can do whatever you like with it, irrespective of how many people subsidise you with their taxes and would like some kind of input as to what is done with the land.

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Filed under Nottingham, Politics, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

Gun Battle on Derby Road: three slain, and a horse

Derby Road seems reasonably peaceful now, but not in 1701, when Timothy Buckley, a 29-year old criminal from Stamford, Lincolnshire, was arrested after a ferocious gun battle as he tried to rob a stagecoach on its way to Derby.  The coach contained three gentlemen attended by two footmen. Buckley had previously been a shoemaker’s apprentice in London, but gradually became a more and more hardened criminal after his return to Nottinghamshire and the Wild North.
Beyond “two miles from Nottingham”, we do not know exactly where this gun battle took place, but usually, highwaymen would strike as the coach was moving uphill, and was therefore travelling at its very slowest pace.

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To me, the steep slope near the present day St.Barnabas Cathedral is too close to the city centre, so my best guess would be that stretch of the A52 as it climbs steadily after the present-day Ring Road, between the back of Wollaton Park and the grounds of Nottingham University. On this map, look for the orange arrow which is over the green A52 road with the words “Lenton Abbey” written over it. If the incident was any further on, then it might have been on the shorter slope near to the present day Bramcote Leisure Centre.

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No sooner had Buckley commanded the stagecoach to “Stand and Deliver, Your Money or your Life!”, than one of the passengers, unwilling “to submit to a single bravo”, blasted him with a blunderbuss. Buckley’s horse was shot out from under him, and died instantly.

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A blunderbuss was a murderous weapon, used for close-in fighting, in the words of Wikipedia, “when it was unimportant to protect objects around the intended target”. This formidable firearm was loaded with shot and anything else the user thought might do the job, small pieces of metal, nails, bits of rock or stone, or even salt. It was flared at the muzzle, and was the 17th-19th century equivalent of the shotgun so beloved of Wells Fargo personnel.
Interestingly, the military term dragoon is taken from the fact that early blunderbusses (or should that be “blunderbi”?) were decorated with dragon’s heads around the muzzle, and the blast would seem a little like the fire of a real dragon.
Buckley was not lightly armed either. He was carrying eight horse pistols. The largest were up to twenty inches long, and were carried in holsters across the horse’s back just in front of the saddle. This seems an unlikely number of such large weapons, but perhaps some were coat pistols (carried in the pocket of a greatcoat) coach pistols, (carried in a saddlebag perhaps), or belt pistols, (carried on a belt, hanging from a hook).

horse pistol xxxxxxxxIn any case, Buckley was very attached to his favorite horse and enraged by its untimely demise, “a most desperate conflict ensued”. Buckley let fly with all his pistols.
One male passenger and a footman both fell dead, shot through the heart. Eventually, though, Buckley was overcome by the remaining occupants of the stagecoach, as he grew gradually weaker and weaker from loss of blood, caused by his eleven severe gunshot wounds.

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After a brief trial at Nottingham Shire Hall, Buckley was found guilty and was later hanged. He was only 29 years of age, and he was sentenced also to be “hanged in chains”. I don’t know how long his rotting cadaver was left exposed to the elements, but as a birdwatcher, I certainly know that there was one famous case in Nottingham where a dead criminal decayed over the course of the winter, helped by passing crows and magpies, only to have, with the advent of spring, a pair of blue tits raise their young inside his empty skull, using his eye sockets to go in and out, perhaps even operating their own one-way system.

As these events all took place in 1701, Buckley would have been executed on what is now “The Forest Recreation Ground”. Centuries ago, “The Forest”, was called “The Lings” and was a very different place from what it is like nowadays. Largely covered by gorse and scrub, it was considered to be the southernmost part of Sherwood Forest itself. It was only as late as 1845 that, under the Nottingham Inclosure Act, some eighty acres of Sherwood Forest were set aside for recreational use. This area became “The Forest Recreation Ground” and to commemorate the event the Mayor of Nottingham planted a special Oak tree called the “Inclosure Oak” which can still be seen today at the Mansfield Road entrance. The orange arrow marks the oak tree:

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Pretty well straightway, the area became a site for sports and shows, or a combination of the two.

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In the summer of 1801, four butchers held their weddings there simultaneously, and decided who was to pay for the wedding picnic by holding a donkey race, with four animals, each equipped with mascots taken from the wardrobes of their respective owners’ new wives. The race was easily won by the donkey which had corsets attached to his tail with a bow of green ribbon. In second and third place were the animal with a pair of stockings around its neck, and another with a saddle made out of a nightgown.  Needless to say, the donkey wearing a voluminous pair of ladies’ drawers was placed last.
By this time, the Forest had already been a horse racing course for well over a hundred years. Not long before that, bear baiting had taken place on the very site where the horse racing course was later to be constructed. In 1798, a new horse racing track in the form of a figure-of-eight was built. Unfortunately, this rather novel choice of layout, designed to give the maximum length of course in the smallest possible area, was not overly successful, as spectators did not have a sufficiently good view. Crashes between horses were apparently too infrequent to compensate for this.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, though, there were at least two major race meetings per year, in spring and autumn, and the area was beginning to attract the same kind of people who can still be found there nowadays, well over a hundred and fifty years later…

“…loiterers…policemen…tooting footmen…toddling children…enterprising
vendors… overcharging greenhorns…patterers, chanters and beggars…sailors without arms or legs… “downy blokes”…holiday makers….villains…detectives …boozers and nymphs of easy virtue…ministers of religion……“black sheep”…enterprising merchants…aristocratic swells… pleasure seekers…a few robberies, a few drunks, a few fights…married men, sitting in the drinking places at the Stand with an assemblage of whores…the unemployed poor…”

Indeed, with whisky at an all-time low of 75p a gallon, so unsavoury did the area become that in 1879, male members of Nottingham University staff were threatened with instant dismissal if they were ever found at the horse races.
Other sports were played there as well. From 1865-1879, Nottingham Forest both practiced and played soccer here, being known therefore as “Forest Football Club”. Cricket was widely played in the summer, as were types of field hockey known variously as bandy, shinney or shinty.
Apart from sport, alongside what is now Forest Road East, there was a long line of thirteen windmills, all taking advantage of the strong winds and updrafts which blew across the open ground lower down to the north.

(c) Nottinghamshire Archives; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The exact place where the gallows stood and where Tinothy Buckley met his Maker has not necessarily been recorded absolutely accurately. Public executions took place here until as recently as 1827, and I am fairly certain that, many years ago, I read that the gallows used to stand a little distance down Mansfield Road from St.Andrew’s Church, within the present day Rock Cemetery. This was to the south of the white, recently refurbished, Lodge House. Clearly, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, there was still some judicial rôle for this building to fulfil, as it was originally used as a Police or Keeper’s Lodge and a police cell can still be seen at basement level.

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Others say that  there was a gallows on the same site as present-day St.Andrew’s Church, and, indeed, when excavation work was done here in 1826 for the church foundations, more than fifteen apparently medieval skeletons were found. This was presumably connected with a much earlier era, when travellers left the City of Nottingham through the gate in the mediaeval wall near what is now the Victoria Centre branch of Boots the Chemist. As they climbed painfully slowly up the hill which is now Mansfield Road, stagecoach robbers and mere footpads would sometimes pounce at Forest Road: hence the gallows which were constructed here, and might even have concentrated the thieves’ minds a little as they waited to swoop upon their prey from behind the bushes.

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“Garner’s Old Nottingham Notes” (date unknown) somehow contrive to be both illuminating and yet somehow confusing…

From information given, the gallows appear to have been erected on the level ground which now forms the upper portion of the Rock Cemetery, and it was probably 100 yards or rather more from Mansfield Road…..
Judging by the large old official map of the borough, measuring from the present Forest Road East, I consider it probable that, going northwards, the site of the gallows was about 100 yards from the southern boundary of the Rock Cemetery, and probably rather more from Mansfield Road, according to the contour of the ground, as depicted upon the official map. There is much likelihood that the gallows was erected near to where the last windmill on that side of the Forest then stood or was afterwards constructed.
It is certainly proper to state that I have seen two or more old maps on which the ground now covered by St Andrews Church, and southwards from there, is entitled Gallows Hill. The upper part of the ground is no doubt higher than any portion of the Rock Cemetery, and I have thought that this might possibly be the original place on which the gallows stored a few centuries back and perhaps afterwards were moved to the spot above designated.”

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Wherever the exact location of the gallows, when convicted prisoners were to be hanged, they were usually brought from the County Hall in High Pavement, or the Town Hall at Week-day Cross, through the maze of streets in Hockley, and then walked along Clumber Street, Milton Street and finally up the hill along Mansfield Road. Prisoners were entitled to one last drink at the Nag’s Head Public House, which was traditionally paid for by the landlord.

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There is, of course, a traditional tale, told no doubt, of every road with a set of gallows and a public house. One particular prisoner, who was a teetotaller, therefore, refused his last mug of ale at the Nag’s Head. He was taken straight on to the gallows and duly hanged. Seconds later a much flustered horse rider came galloping up the hill, and screamed to a halt by the little knot of people. He was waving a piece of paper which was, of course, the Royal Pardon for the Recently Hanged Man. Had the latter been just a little later in arriving at his place of execution, then he would have been saved. The “little later” of course, is exactly the time it takes to quaff a pint of ale.
The last person to be executed at these gallows on Forest Road was William Wells, a 45 year old native of Peterborough, who had robbed James Corden in Basford Lane and Mansfield Road on March 7th 1827. He was executed on April 2nd 1827.
Not all highwaymen meet with disaster however. Just occasionally one of them can make that leap from criminality to superstardom…

 

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Filed under Criminology, History, Nottingham

Black Shuck on the world stage

As I have said in two previous blogposts, Old Shuck, Black Shuck, or simply Shuck is the name of the huge, phantom black dog which roams, allegedly, the fields and fens of Norfolk and Suffolk. There are, of course, many places other than East Anglia where completely credible reports occur. We have already looked at three in Nottinghamshire, but almost every county in England has its own version of the creature, whether that be the “Bogey Beast” in Lancashire, the Lincolnshire “Hairy Jack”, the “Gallytrot” in Suffolk or the “Bargheust” in Yorkshire and the North.

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They are often associated with electrical storms, such as Black Shuck’s appearance at first Bungay and then Blythburgh in Suffolk. More often, though, they are linked to places rather than meteorological conditions. Churchyards and graveyards at midnight are a favourite, as well as crossroads. Equally, if not more, favoured are dark lanes, ancient pathways and lonely footpaths in the countryside. Occasionally, there is a connection with water, such as a river, a lake or even a beach. Sometimes, such as at Launceston in Cornwall, it may be an ancient tumulus, as is the case with the….

“graves and prehistoric burials whose attendant hounds proliferate densely in Wiltshire and West Somerset on the grounds that they can be seen as passages downwards to the World of the Dead, and so also suicide graves and scenes of execution…”

(Theo Brown: ‘The Black Dog’, in Porter and Russell (ed.) ‘Animals in Folklore’ (1978).”

Likewise, the Black Dog is seen as the “guardian of the threshold, escorting souls into the afterlife”. According to Jennifer Westwood in her book “Albion” (1985) :

“Black Dogs commonly haunt lanes, footpaths, bridges, crossroads and graves – all points of transition, …..held to be weak spots in the fabric dividing the mortal world from the supernatural.”

And :

“If a count be made of the kind of places favoured by these apparitions one thing becomes plain. Quite half the localities are places associated with movement from one locality to another: roads, lanes, footpaths, ancient trackways, bridges, crossroads.”

Let’s now leave Nottinghamshire’s Shuck eating his Pedigree Chum for just a moment, and skip thousands of miles to the north east of the United States. In her most excellent book, “Real Wolfmen True Encounters in Modern America” the author Linda S Godfrey explains her idea that…

“One common factor seems to emerge from every collection of strange creature accounts: there is an unmistakable connection between anomalous beings and certain features of the land. Unexplainable creatures and events tend to occur near freshwater; on hills; at boundary areas such as roads; and on or near burial grounds, and military zones, and all types of sacred areas around the world.
This geographic predictability supports the premise of many contemporary investigators like Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Nick Redfern, and the late John Keel, who suspect that anomalous creatures are not natural animals; they are entities that belong to a completely non-human realm and are attracted to certain energies of the Earth and all living creatures.”

The researchers listed above, and many others, believe that werewolves, Bigfoot, alien big cats, grey aliens, UFOs and sea monsters as well as more traditional entities such as fairies, dragons and ogres are all part of a planet-wide “spirit” population that manifests “in some sort of concert with the human mind, intent on  its own enigmatic purposes.”

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And of course, this theory does go quite a long way to explaining a very large question, namely, “Why do so many apparently reliable witnesses continue to report the same, impossible things?”

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If we just think of Great Britain, how many UFOs, Black Dogs, ghosts and even sea serpents have been reported over the years?

Linda S Godfrey, who specialises in the more exotic of the world’s canids and possible canids writes about the Wolfmen who are regularly seen in her native Wisconsin.

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Wolfmen in form are rather like Bigfoot, except that they have a wolf’s head.  They are thinner than Bigfoot, and consequently, can move very quickly if required. The most famous of the American Wolfmen is the “Beast of Bray Road”.

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Witnesses have sketched what they saw on this most famous of cryptozoological highways…

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Linda S Godfrey first became interested in the Beast when she was a journalist and had the opportunity to speak to one of the first witnesses….
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Fairly frequently, the Wolfman’s favourite food is roadkill. These were originally witness sketches…

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There are at least two photographs…

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One of the very earliest known sightings of a Wolfman occurred not in Bray Road, but at the St Coletta School for Exceptional Children, where Mark Shackelman worked as a security guard. Linda S Godfrey tells the story….

“The nightwatchman’s main duty was to make quiet surveillance of the 174 acre grounds…The land was dotted with ancient Native American burial mounds.
One evening, movement on the mound behind the main building drew the sharp nightwatchman’s attention as he observed what appeared to be a large animal digging furiously atop the raised earth. The creature was roughly man-size, covered in dark fur, and knelt in a way that should have been physically impossible for a four-footed beast And it fled on two feet rather than four as soon as it noticed Shackelman’s presence.
The flummoxed Watchman examined the mound next day and saw that the Earth had been torn by what looked like big claw marks, with raking slashes in sets of three. That night, he made sure to arm himself with a big, club-like flashlight before making his rounds. Sure enough, the creature was there again, digging in the mound near midnight. This time, however, it rose upon its hind legs and faced Shackelman. It stood about six feet tall and reeked of rotten meat.
Shackelman bravely shined his light at the creature so that he could get a good, long look at it. Although it was covered in fur, he could make out powerful arms that ended in hands with thumbs and little fingers that were much smaller than the middle three digits, explaining the triple slashes in the dirt. It had a muscular torso and a canid head with a muzzle and pointed ears. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the creature made a growling vocalisation that Shackelman later described as a “neo-human voice” and that sounded to him like three syllables, “ga- dar-rah”. The creature continued to make fearless eye contact with Shackelman, who felt he was in imminent and mortal danger.”

If you want to read what happens to Mr. Shackelman, or the Wolfman, then you will have to buy the book! You will not be disappointed! It is a marvellous book which opens a whole world of strangeness that takes a lot to explain away. This report of a wolfman was just the first of the many. According to Linda S Godfrey…

“Was the St Coletta creature just a sign of things to come? The Shackelman sighting was only the first of over one hundred reports nationwide of a human sized canine that could run upright or crouch with a chunk of bloody carrion clutched in its paws. In that incident and most sightings since, the creature is described with a head that appears wolf-like but a body that often – except for its fur, dog shaped limbs, and elongated pause – looks somewhat humanoid because of its powerfully muscular torso and shoulders.”

Here are some more modern colour photos, in some cases taken by trailcams.

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If you look at Youtube, a search for the “Beast of Bray Road” will reveal scores of films of varying quality. This lasts an interesting three minutes…

and this is a more thorough full length programme

If, however, you find yourself being tempted towards the “Gable Film”, please be aware that its maker has already acknowledged, several years ago, that the film is (a very accomplished) fake .

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Filed under Cryptozoology, Science, Wildlife and Nature

The Cadillac of the Skies

 

On August 17th, 1943 the Eighth Air Force had tried to eliminate the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt, deep inside the German heartland. Flying in daylight, and unescorted for the vast majority of the trip, the raid had been an audacious catastrophe. Some 230 bombers had taken part, and sixty of these were completely destroyed. As well as these sixty B-17s, a further 55-95 bombers were badly damaged. Many of these were too severely damaged ever to be repaired.

Living legends

The Eighth Air Force regained its composure, made good its losses in both men and aircraft, and, on October 14th 1943, they attacked again.  Flying in daylight, and unescorted for the vast majority of the trip, the raid was arguably a bigger disaster than the previous one. Of the 291 B-17s on the mission, 60 were shot down over enemy territory and another 17 damaged so severely that they had to be scrapped. A further 121 aircraft were damaged to a greater or lesser extent. These losses represented more than 26% of the attacking force.

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The losses of aircrew were equally devastating. Some 650 well trained and skilful specialists were killed, which constituted some 22% of the 2,900 brave young airmen who went on the raid. 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, which was 87% of their complement.
General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold was later to state that the Black Thursday loss of American bombers in the Schweinfurt raid was “incidental”. Despite this callous dismissal of the lives of well over six hundred of his own men, further unescorted daylight bomber raids deep into Germany were immediately suspended until further notice. Cynics might well ask how many more B-17s  were left after the two disastrous attacks on Schweinfurt? Long distance bombing raids would only recommence in February 1944 with the advent of Operation Argument, a series of missions which would later be more commonly known as “Big Week”.

*****

I live in Sherwood, a suburb in the north of the Nottingham conurbation in England. At the end of our street is “Hucknall Road” which leads the seven or so miles to the much smaller market town of Hucknall.

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Strangely enough, Hucknall has a small grass airfield which is less than six miles from our street. Most days we can hear light planes making an enormous noise as they drone slowly overhead.

Hucknall RunwayxxxxxxDuring the course of April 1942, one man who frequently worked at Hucknall Aerodrome was to come up with an idea which would go a very long way indeed to winning the war in Western Europe. His name was Ronald W. Harker and he was usually known as “Ronnie”. Harker was the senior liaison test pilot with Rolls-Royce. Perhaps with Harker’s employer in their minds as an ulterior motive, the RAF had already invited the experienced test pilot to test fly the North American Mustang Mark 1, an American aircraft which was designed and built in the unbelievably short time of 117 days. This amazing feat was in response to a request by the British Purchasing Commission for an RAF fighter which would be an advance on the Spitfire.

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The original North American Mustang was powered by an Allison V-1710 piston engine and Harker was quite impressed with the plane’s handling qualities. Its performance up to 20.000 feet or so was commendable, but any higher, and the aircraft quickly became rather disappointing. Harker concluded that the problem was the inadequate Allison engine which was too low-powered to exploit the plane’s advanced aerodynamic features including a much more fuel efficient laminar flow wing. This innovation cut down the amount of turbulence as the air passed over the wing and would eventually lead to almost phenomenally low fuel consumption.

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Initially though, the new American fighter had an extremely unimpressive maximum range of only 400 miles, and when delivered to the RAF it was quickly relegated to Army co-operation and photographic work.
Ronnie Harker was employed by Rolls-Royce and was therefore presumably somewhat biased, but it was his suggestion to take out the Allison engine and to replace it with the Rolls-Royce Merlin 61, an act which was to transform a rather disappointing aircraft and to turn it into a war winner.
Despite a great deal of initial reluctance, mostly from the British Air Ministry, the first flight of the newly engined Mustang took place at Hucknall Airfield on October 13th 1942 with Captain R.T. Shepherd, the Rolls-Royce chief test pilot, at the controls. The Merlin-Mustang fighter’s performance was spectacular, particularly at high altitude. Thus the greatest fighter of the war was born and Harker acquired for the rest of his life the sobriquet of “the man who put the Merlin in the Mustang.” Harker also got a pay rise of a pound a week (just over one and a half dollars).

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Some four hundred of the Merlin-Mustangs were ordered for the US Army Air Force as the P-51 and Great Britain wanted more than a thousand, although only 25 were eventually delivered to the RAF because Rolls-Royce’s own Merlin production was already allocated to Spitfires, Lancasters and Mosquitos. In the USA, however, North American, now almost overwhelmed by the orders to be filled, had no such problems, using Packard and Continental versions of the Rolls-Royce engine built under licence. Eventually, more than 15,000 aircraft were to be manufactured.

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The P-51B carried just about the same amount of fuel as the P-47 Thunderbolt, but with its new Merlin engine “got 3.3 miles per gallon while the P-47 got less than 1.8.”. Brigadier General “Tommy” Hayes said that the Merlin-Mustang “had the three qualities you need most if you were going to escort bombers to Berlin – range, range and range.” The latter was extended even further by the carrying of two 512 gallon drop tanks which gave a maximum range of around 2,000 miles. In addition, the aircraft’s top speed increased from 390m.p.h. to 440m.p.h. and in the days after the war had finished there were to be many no doubt apocryphal tales of Mustangs which had exceeded the sound barrier in a steep or even vertical dive. In his memoirs, the P-51 ace Colonel Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson said that the Mustang “went like hell” because “the Merlin had great gobs of power and was equally at home high or low, thanks to its two-stage, two-speed supercharger.”

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This newly updated Mustang was, of course, exactly the aircraft that the beleaguered bomber crews in the B-17s of the Eighth Air Force had been waiting for. Now, with help of “our little friends” they could go about their business with considerably less apprehension than had previously been the case. The new aircraft is certainly said to have had an impact on Herr Reichsmarschall Göring who “when (he) saw the Mustangs escorting the American air armadas over the capital of the Reich is said to have realised that Germany had lost the war.”

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The mechanism by which the Third Reich was, along with Göring himself, quite rightly consigned to the rubbish bin of History, was by no means a complex one. The Mustang pilots were quite simply encouraged to engage the Luftwaffe fighters in combat at every opportunity.  Given the quality of the new P-51, especially the P-51D with its superb all round visibility bubble canopy, the Americans duly shot down both the aging Bf109s and the newer Fw190s. Gradually over the months, the Mustangs killed off all the most experienced and most effective pilots in the Luftwaffe. Between January and April 1944, the Germans lost more than 1,000 fighter pilots, of which 28 had more than 30 kills and eight had more than 100. On one mission to Augsburg, much later in the war, Mustangs put a final full stop to the last and greatest German threat, namely the twin-engined fighter armed with multiple rockets. They destroyed 23 of the 77 that came up to oppose them.

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At the same time, as part of the same process, it became increasingly difficult for the Luftwaffe to find calm skies where rookie pilots might practice. And in any case there was soon too great a shortage of fuel for these young replacements to waste on practice flights. The situation swiftly went from bad to worse, and the Mustangs, and many other Allied fighters, all began to enjoy enormous success against increasingly weak opponents. The Germans were never ever throughout the rest of the war to enjoy air superiority.

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Allied bombers began by day and by night to operate with increasing impunity and to have an increasingly greater impact on the overall fighting capabilities of the Third Reich.

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The situation is perhaps best summarised by a joke which remains as yet unverified on Wikipedia. It was supposedly told by Wehrmacht soldiers in the weeks after D-Day:

“If the plane in the sky is silver, it’s American, if it’s blue, it’s British, if it’s invisible, it’s ours.”
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“This all happened because of the Mustang, and the Mustang succeeded because of the Merlin.”

I cannot resist finishing my hymn of praise to the most effective fighter ever by quoting the episode in “Empire of the Sun”, when the “Cadillac of the Skies” makes its appearance, strangely not in Europe but in China. Enjoy.

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Filed under Aviation, History, Nottingham

Be like Mary Poppins! Feed the birds!

Now is the time in this cold weather when you should be feeding the birds, even if you have done very little so far. You can save the life of a robin just by buying a packet of digestive biscuits. Every day, take two biscuits, crunch them up into a powder in your hands, and put that powder down on the ground in an area where he might come and eat it.

Robin-perched-zzzzzzzzz

If you can, try to put food out in the same place every day, and you may well find that the robin becomes really tame. Apparently, robins evolved in the forests of Stone Age England to follow great huge fat wild boars around the place, so as you might imagine, I am having great success with my new little feathered friend.

A wild boar in autumn forest

After only a week, “Rockin’ Robin” sits in the bushes and waits for me to go out in the morning and feed him. As I arrive he seems to cheep a three syllable greeting which I have taken to mean “Good-Mor-Ning”. When I leave, he manages two syllables which I hope are “Thank-You”. I may however be mistaken in these interpretations. The little chap, though, is certainly very tame and I think if I had the time I might be able to train him to perch on my hand and take the food directly from there. Anyway two digestive biscuits is not a lot to ask.
If you want to go any further then you could refer back to my blog post about erecting your bird table. It was called “The five golden double entendres of buying a bird table”. Even if you do not have a bird table you can still put food down, perhaps a few feet or so away from where you feed the robin.

It is best in my opinion to buy ready-made specialised food rather than your own food scraps from meals. After various experiments, we have found that the best value is Wilkos where the bird food is cheap and seems to be of a good enough quality for the birds to eat it quite happily. If you have bird feeders, the best thing to buy is sunflower seeds which are cheap, and birds such as blue tits seem to absolutely love them. Alternatively, seed eating birds and robins and dunnocks all seem to like the finch food.

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Of course you can still buy peanuts and put them in your peanut feeder. Do not eat them yourself.

Robins enjoy small bird food and any suet-based product.

The great thing about Wilkos is that you can order delivery at a specific branch and then you go and pick it up. It’s free. And no, I am not paid to advertise Wilkos. It’s just that I know from my own experience that they are cheap and the birds like them. There are lots of companies on the Internet who will be only too pleased to send you bird food (“Our special blend”) but you will pay enormous amounts of money for the privilege. Among ordinary bird watchers, this is a very well-known method of separating  a well intentioned nice person from their hard earned cash.
The finch seed does not contain wheat or grass seeds. A lot of the foods sold in shops seems to contain these two and it means that in the spring you will get a lot of unexpected grasses growing up, probably where you don’t want them. On the other hand if you have always wanted your very own mini wheat field they are absolutely excellent.

Unfortunately many bird foods may also attract wood pigeons and squirrels, both of which will behave like living vacuum cleaners.  They are quite capable of eating every single bit of food that you have put out in about ten minutes. When squirrels or wood pigeons arrive you should chase them away if it’s the early part of the day and then the little birds will get their chance.

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Once it gets towards late afternoon though, the squirrels and the wood pigeons will do quite a good job of clearing up any surplus food that might otherwise attract our nocturnal little ratty friends. The same can be said about the special squirrel proof cages which can be put on the ground over the top of your bird food. We don’t have one of these but somebody told me that they work very well in the sense that squirrels are too big to get through the holes in the cage, but unfortunately, the holes are small enough to let in rats.
Overall I would encourage you to experiment in the way that you feed the birds. More or less anything that you do will be appreciated by them. Every year the people of north-western Europe save the lives of hundreds of millions of birds who otherwise would die in the cold. And on a less elevated level, the birds will soon become your friends and you can spend many a happy hour watching them and if you feel so inclined, singing to them. You may even have the time to learn the words to a well-known song in Hungarian:

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Filed under My Garden, My House, Nottingham, Wildlife and Nature