Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Beast of Benais

The ferocious so-called “Beast of Benais”, in central France, was either one unbelievably long lived monster, or a series of, conceivably, related animals.

7741547673_carte-de-situation-de-benais-indre-et-loire

According to one account…..

“At the end of the winter of 1693, on February 19th, a wolf attacked a nine-year-old child, Pierre Boireau, at Saint-Patrice. The victim was found partially devoured and five days later, a mother found the remains of her own daughter, Antoinette, aged seven, in the heathland around Continvoir. In March 1694, a wolf killed two more victims, adults on this occasion, at Benais. In April, there were three more, four in May and eight in June, including a mother and her child.

chateau ccccccc

Monsieur de Miromesnil, the Lord Lieutenant in charge of the province of Touraine, then organised a series of beats. According to his account in June 1694, “In fewer than six months, wolves have killed in the area around Benais more than 70 people and have wounded the same number”.

benais

In June two shepherdesses had their throats ripped out, a father died defending his daughter at Ingrandes and in July there were three further killings in Benais and at Les Essards. In August a sixty four year old woman was devoured in Benais, and the same fate befell a little girl and two adult women in Bourgueil. None of this  behaviour, of course, is that of a wolf such as we experience them in the 21st century. As I have noted elsewhere, only one attack by a wolf on a human being has ever been documented in North America, and even then, it was a wolf which was used to scavenging on a landfill site and  had therefore lost its fear of Man.
Until the following winter of 1693-1694, the attacks stopped but the population of the area was still completely terrified. Two wolves were killed during the beats organised by Monsieur de Miromesnil, but the death of a young man of eighteen in December 1693, with two other young people killed in Saint-Michel-sur-Loire  in the January of 1694 proved that the Beast far from finished. There was, however, a long hiatus until the very last victim came in August of that same year, 1694. Then everything came to a stop.

coloiur village

Some fifty seven years later, on June 9th 1751 a young shepherd was attacked and devoured at Nouzilly to the north of Tours. The animal was not seen but wolves were considered to be the culprits. The body of the young man was horribly mutilated accorded to the description given by the village priest, Danican, the man charged with burying the body…

“The child from La Charité who used to live near your tenant farmer at Les Fosses Rouges, looking after his six animals, was ripped to pieces and devoured at eight o’clock in the morning by carnivorous wolves.  I buried her at quarter past twelve. They brought the sad remains of her corpse to the church, wrapped up in a woman’s apron with the child’s own clothes covered in blood. The beast had ripped her tracheal artery and part of her right cheek and had eaten her thigh which had been ripped off her body as far down as the knee.  This was in such a way that the top part of the bone of this thigh was extensively gnawed away and devoid of flesh as if it had been trimmed off purposefully by a knife. The beast in order to devour her intestines had eaten all of her belly and gnawed her ribs. Of all her viscera, there remained only one foot of (illegible, perhaps fortunately) and a small part of the spleen.”

This formidable animal resembled in every point including its behaviour « La Bête du Gévaudan ». To be convinced of this, it is enough to be aware of the story which was told by the village priest at Varennes…

“These beasts were almost like a wolf, except that they had much wider muzzles. When they first saw people, they were amiable like a dog would be, but then they leapt on their throats.”

Here is a different account

“A ferocious beast of which nobody knew the name, but with an unheard of daring and ferocity, struck, for the most part, in the Forest of Benais, not far from the village of the same name. It began in 1693 and the attacks were to last for a year and a half……during this time the animal had 300 victims. The attacks suddenly stopped in the month of August 1694. The Beast of Benais was never killed.”

A different website says…

“According to the evidence of the village priest at Varennes, it was thought that there were 300 victims, whereas the parish registers of the area report only 72 deaths caused by animal attacks during the same period, a total which is both more plausible and yet still quite a considerable one……The witnesses of the era said to the priest that there was not just one beast but several acting in concert and that the latter looked like wolves, but may not have been real wolves. They were very much like wolves but had a wider muzzle. One detail of their behaviour was quite remarkable in that they allowed themselves to be patted, but then leapt on the throat of the victim. People thought that they were “loups cerviers”. The people, however, were not so sure”.

“loups cerviers” does not exist as a phrase in the online foreign language dictionary that I usually consult, but I did find it in what looked to be quite a good alternative to my initial choice. In any case, the writer of the original cryptozoology website has added in brackets after “loup cervier”, the word “lynx”.  Google agrees with this and offers the expression as the French Canadian phrase  for “Le Lynx du Canada”. Strangely enough, when the French police spend a merry weekend recently looking for a wandering tiger near Paris, the suggestion that their expert put forward was that the animal was a “loup cervier”. In none of these cases, however, does the unbelievably secretive behaviour of the lynx, Camadian or otherwise, fit the details given by the witnesses.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In France at this time, parish registers would perhaps record the fact that somebody had died, but there was no legal stipulation that the person writing the account (usually the priest, the only one in the parish who was literate) should record the reason for death. If the priest at Varennes recorded his total of animal attack victims as three hundred, then this might well be a reasonably accurate total, based on his own local knowledge of the real facts, whereas the parish registers of an area which reports only 72 deaths caused by animal attacks might merely be providing a politically more acceptable figure. Certainly, this economy with the truth is known to have happened with the Beast of Gévaudan, whose kill rate was deliberately suppressed once the King’s official representatives, the d’Enneval father and son, had supposedly put an end to the monster.

Could the Beast or Beasts of Benais have been a number of feral dogs or the hybrids of wolves and large dogs? Certain death counts attributed to the Beast or Beasts are incredible. I do not really have the time to be meticulously exact but this list captures the flavour…

“In November 1693, there were deaths on the 18th, the 19th, the 22nd, the 23rd, the 25th, the 26th and the 27th. At Mazières, from November 29th to December 3rd, there were four victims. In Langeais in three days, November 29th-December 1st, there were three dead. More followed in Langeais on December 13th, 14th and 15th.
In early March of 1694, several children in Continvoir were devoured. Desperate, the inhabitants no longer knew what they could do to stop this scourge. The local clergy increased their prayers. God, after turning a deaf ear for so long, finally heard them. At the beginning of the month of August 1694 the carnage ceased.”

Subsequent writers then began their own attempts to count the victims. The priest at Varennes suggested 300 victims. Marie-Rose Souty proposed 95 definite kills, but added that this figure was certainly much lower than the real one, because most village priests of the time did not ever mention the cause of death for their parishioners when  recording their demise. Marie-Rose Souty suggests then, at least 200 victims in a year and a half, that is to say around ten or eleven per month. Above all, the monster seems to have appreciated “fresh meat” and always attacked the weakest people, those who were the least able to defend themselves. Its ferocity was unbelievable. Even the Beast of Gévaudan only managed a mere three victims a month.

.
Yet more creatures appeared in Touraine in 1751 in the north of the province, and then more in 1808 and more again in 1814. They were all thought to be wolves,  even though the behaviour of wolves in our present era just would not encompass their attacking human beings, killing them and then devouring them. Wolves just don’t behave like that nowadays!

As an afterthought, the more I read about these many monsters in the France of yesteryear, the less satisfied I am about any of the most frequently quoted explanations. I would reject wolf more or less totally and even feral dogs or wolf-dog hybrids seems to me increasingly less likely, whether or not they were trained by serial killers, sexual psychopaths or whoever. The peasants of the time were familiar with wolves and frequently rejected that animal as an explanation for the Beast of Benais. Their descriptions often have, variously, wide muzzles, reddish fur, black manes, a black stripe between head and tail, a belly that drags low towards the ground and a full tail, that could even be used to strike people. The more books I read the less I understand this. Perhaps in France there was  a very small and thinly scattered population of a ferocious animal, nowadays extinct, but which still hung on in the wilder regions. Perhaps we should be looking at the idea of a mesonychid ?

10 Comments

Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Wildlife and Nature

A Life on the Ocean Wave

After doing my researches on the German Dornier Do. 217E bomber which was shot down in St.Just in western Cornwall, I tried very hard to find the graves of the crew. It seemed likely to me that, whatever side they might have been on in the conflict, they had probably been interred a very, very long way from their homes and families. After failing to find their graves in the two cemeteries at St.Just, I visited the cemetery at Penzance.

The dead crew members of the Dornier bomber were not in that particular cemetery either, but I did find a great many other graves from the Second World War.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And at the time, I was forcibly struck by two things. First of all, the majority of the dead were from ships, completely unlike, for example, the cemetery where my father is buried in South Derbyshire. Here more or less all the war casualties are from the Army or possibly, the RAF. Secondly, I became very aware of the discrepancy between what we do and say on Armistice Day, and what dreadful fates have befallen the people who are buried in these graves. We all wear our poppies, and dutifully pledge that “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” yet I am very sure that we don’t, despite all our best intentions.
The poor people in those graves in Penzance Cemetery no longer have any life whatsoever, thanks to their decision to join up and serve their country. They hit a brick wall in time, sometimes known precisely down to the very minute, and then no more. And they weren’t anonymous. They all had their own lives just like we do now, with families, girlfriends, wives, beer to drink and Christmases to celebrate.

William R.Baxter was an Able Seaman on the Merchant Navy ship, the S.S.Scottish Musician which was a motor tanker of just under seven thousand tons, registered in London. The ship was to survive the war, but William R.Baxter was not.

scottish_minstrel

On Friday April 18th 1941, the Scottish Musician was damaged by aircraft bombing at a position some three miles from St. Ann’s Head on a bearing of 205°. St. Ann’s Head is the extreme south western tip of Pembrokeshire in south west Wales.

annd head

William Baxter was the only casualty. He was just twenty one years of age. William was the son of Richard George Baxter and Ruth Baxter of Penzance and the husband of Beatrice Joy Baxter.
P1500250xxxxxThe Scottish Musician was consequently further damaged on January 5th 1942 when she hit a mine at position 52° 16’ N, 01° 59’ E, which is near the port of Harwich in Suffolk in East Anglia. This resulted in the death of the twenty year old cabin boy, Albert Henry Jones. Albert is buried in Canada in the “Notre Dame des Neiges” Cemetery in Montréal.
P1500256XXXXXXXRonald Norman Neale was an Ordinary Seaman. He served on board HMS Warwick which was an Admiralty ‘W’ class destroyer. Young Ronald was only twenty years of age when he was killed, on February 20th 1944. He was the unmarried son of James and Linaol Neale of Grove Park, London. On his grave, his grieving parents have had inscribed “Gone from us all, but always in our thoughts”, as Ronald no doubt was for the rest of their lives. On the day that I visited, there were flowers on his grave, conceivably from one of his aging siblings perhaps, or possibly his nephews or nieces.

dwm-1-u-boat-death-trap-HMS-Warwick (2)

HMS Warwick was itself only twenty seven years old, having been launched in 1917. As “D-25” she participated in both the First and Second World Wars, before she was torpedoed and sunk on the day that Ordinary Seaman Ronald Norman Neale was killed. From July to November 1943, she had been in the Bay of Biscay on anti-submarine duties, as part of the RAF Coastal Command offensive. In November she participated in Operation Alacrity,  helping to set up and supply Allied air bases in the Azores.
Having returned to Britain in January 1944,, HMS Warwick was tasked with leading an escort group operating in the South Western Approaches, guarding merchant ships against surprise attacks by German E-boats. The destroyer was patrolling off Trevose Head just north of Newquay on Cornwall’s northern coast when she was torpedoed by the U-413. At the time, HMS Warwick  was under the command of Commander Denys Rayner. The warship sank very quickly, in just a few minutes, with the loss of over half her crew.
The U-413 had been launched on January 15th 1942, and was commanded by Kapitänleutnant Gustav Poel, who, unlike the vast majority of German submariners, was to survive the war.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As well as the Warwick, the U-413 was an extremely successful submarine which sank five merchant ships amounting to a total tonnage of 36,885 tons. By August 20th 1944, the U-413  was  commanded by the 26 year old Oberleutnant Dietrich Sachse.

sasche_dietrich

On this summer’s day, though, the U-413 was sunk in the English Channel to the south of Brighton, by depth charges from the British escort destroyer HMS Wensleydale and the destroyers HMS Forester and HMS Vidette. Forty five members of the Kriegsmarine were killed, including the fresh faced young Captain.  Only one member of the crew survived. His name is not recorded but it is thought unlikely to have been Ishmael. Oy vey!

6 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, History

Ancient initials carved a century ago

In the High School, there is a much vandalised stone mantelpiece over an old fireplace on the ground floor. Boys have carved their names on it well over a hundred years ago and the letters are only just beginning to disappear into the thick levels of gloss paint now used to cover the original stone. The fireplace is located between the General Office and the entrance to the Assembly Hall, so literally thousands of boys will have queued past it as they go into Morning Assembly.

On Wednesday, January 18th 1899, Thomas Ignatius Joseph Gillott entered the school. He was to leave during the course of his fourth academic year, in July 1902. Sadly Thomas died on Sunday, July 6th 1913, after a failed operation at the London Hospital. On that same day in 1899, his brother Bernard Cuthbert Gillott, also entered the school. He was destined to remain a pupil only until the end of that academic year and he left in July 1899. With the advent of the Great War, Bernard was to join the army, where he served as a Captain in the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment. A brave man, he won both the British Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. Eventually he was  severely wounded, but thankfully he survived, and he was invalided home to England.

On Tuesday, September 12th 1899, the youngest of the three brothers, Oswald Cornek Gillot entered the school aged nine. Oswald was born in Ripley on July 22nd 1890 and his father was Thomas Gillot, M.I.C.E., a civil engineer whose address was given as either, Upland House, Eastwood, or Langley Mill near Ilkeston.  Possibly towards the end of the Summer Term, 1905, Oswald carved his name on that extremely popular stone mantelpiece on the ground floor fireplace between the General Office and the Assembly Hall. Oswald left the High School in March 1907.

Gillott ccccccccc

Taking decent photographs of these carved signatures has in actual fact, proved extremely difficult. They are located on the northern side of the school where the usually tropical English sun does not often penetrate,  and they are surrounded by vast thick walls of stone and brick, with a singular lack of windows. This means that the whole area is more or less permanently dark from a photographic point of view. Added to this is the fact that in the century or so since these interesting acts of senseless vandalism were carried out, a succession of school caretakers, under the almost inhuman management pressure to hurry up that all school caretakers permanently face, have repainted the mantelpiece with a succession of layers of whitish gloss paint, all of them applied without having the time to remove the previous one. The stone therefore, now wears a building’s equivalent of an inflatable Sumo suit.
Consequently, I have been forced to Photoshop the pictures I took so that the now faint carvings stand out a little more clearly from the dimly lit and pale coloured background. One unfortunate young man, R.Salew, has proved completely impossible to conjure out of the camouflaging layers that now hide his signature. But he is definitely there.
Towards the end of the Christmas Term, 1904, John Francis Haseldine carved his name, in rather florid handwriting, on that same stone mantelpiece.

haseldine cccccc

John was born on December 28th 1886 and entered the High School on May 4th 1896, aged nine. His father was Frank Haseldine, a lace manufacturer of St.John’s Grove, Beeston. John was a very good footballer (soccer player), and made his début for the First XI on Wednesday, March 26th 1902, in an away game against Loughborough Grammar School. We know that the school’s best player, J.B.Sim, worked hard throughout the match, but, according to the School Magazine of the time,“The Forester”, he was “too carefully watched” by the Loughborough defence, and the game was lost by 0-2. That particular spring, John had been in the team which had won the Football Sixes, a six-a-side competition organised within the school by the boys themselves, with the teams all drawn out of a hat. It was taken, of course, extremely seriously. Coincidentally, the winning team’s captain was that very same J.B.Sim, who was a well-known High School footballer of that era, with more than fifty appearances for the First XI.
On Wednesday, February 14th 1903, John scored his only goal for the school, in a 4-1 away victory over Mansfield Grammar School, “a rather poor and one-sided game”. As an ever present in the team, John won his football colours at the end of this season and was also awarded a “Standard Medal” for Football . In season 1903-1904, he became Captain of Football.  John spent the Christmas Term of 1904 at the High School, but, like so many boys during this period, he left half way through the academic year in December 1904.
In the Great War John was a Major in the Royal Engineers, Special Reserve. He was Mentioned in Dispatches on June 3rd 1916 and received the Military Cross on January 1st 1917. By 1929, he was living at Northdene, New Barnet, in  the northern suburbs of Greater London.
Among the other more legible carved names are “A.E.Anthony” and “G.Devey”. What is apparently “R.Salew” is also there, although there are many, many  layers of gloss paint to obscure the lettering of this particular name, and the photo has not come out because of this. Another seems to read “B.Abel 1905-190” as if the young man had been interrupted, perhaps by a Master (teacher), as he came towards the end of his carving, and then did not ever return to finish the job.

Alfred Edward Anthony was born on June 12 1906, and entered the school on September 18th 1918, aged twelve. His father was F.W.Anthony of 120, Radcliffe Road, West Bridgford. He was the Managing Director of Gotham Co Ltd (apparently sic). Alfred left the school in December 1922.

anthony 1 ccccccc

“G.Devey” was the elder brother of Reginald Devey, whose own name had already been carved on the fireplace upstairs, in the staffroom corridor, alongside that of D.H.Lawrence and L.S.Laver, the High School’s very own Latin Champion of the World.

r.a. devey cccccccv

This ground floor effort though, was Gerald Bertil Devey, who was born on June 10th 1903,. Gerald entered the school on May 27th 1918 at the rather late age of fourteen. His father was James Edward Devey, a civil servant, and the family lived at 22, Ebury Road, Sherwood Rise. Gerald left the High School in July 1919.

devey cccccc

John Rylett Salew entered the school on May 4th 1916, aged fourteen. He left in December 1918. John was born on February 28th 1902 and his father was Joseph William Salew, an “agent” of 19, William Rd, West Bridgford.

Bertram Albert Abel was born on July 31st 1889 and entered the school on September 13th 1905, aged sixteen. His father was William Jenkinson Abel, a clerk to the Nottingham Education Committee. The family lived at 99, Waterloo Crescent, and Bertram left the school in July 1907.

b abell ccccccc
The fact that “S.Vasey” has carved his name in two different places on the stone, one of them complete with his own personal dates, namely “1917” and “1917-1922” shows not only that he had an extremely strong desire for immortality, but that, within the context of the High School, it has been fulfilled. He must have been a very swift, and fairly brazen, vandal.

zzzzz  s vasey 1907

Stanley Vasey was born on June 5th 1905 and he entered the school at the age of thirteen, on September 18 1918. His father was Alfred Vasey, a shop inspector, and the family lived at 15, Glebe Road, West Bridgford. He left in December 1922.

zzzzzzzzzz vasey 1922
It is actually possible to best guess friendship groups among these carved names. Messrs Anthony, Devey and Vasey, for example, all joined the school in 1918. They all left in the latter half of 1922. They must surely have known each other. John Rylett Salew and Stanley Vasey both lived within a penknife’s throw of each other in the very posh Nottingham suburb of West Bridgford. Did the four boys seal their friendship by committing their names to the hard surface of that much painted fireplace ? Did three of them keep watch while the fourth scratched his name into the welcoming stone ?

The other names on the fireplace, some of them extremely indistinct, include “F.B.Ludlow”, “N.G.Peet”, “Littler”, “Meigh” and “Holmes”. The latter was possibly the George Chudleigh Holmes who was a regular player in the First XI football team during the 1902-1903 season. Born on June 15th 1887, George entered the school on January 17th 1900, aged twelve. His father was George H.Holmes, a Lace Manufacturer of Gregory Street, Old Lenton. George left at Easter 1903, perhaps once the football season was over.

hiolmes 2 ccccccccc
Fred (sic) Ball Ludlow was born on April 28th 1891. He entered the school on May 1st 1900 aged   nine. His father was William Ludlow, a clerk in the Gas Depôt. The family lived at 10, Willoughby Avenue, Lenton in the western suburbs of the City. Fred left in June 1907.

ludlow cccccc

Noel George Peet was born on December 26th 1901 and entered the High School on April 26th 1917, aged fifteen. His father was William George Peet, a “general agent”, and the family lived at 413, Mansfield Road. Noel left the school in July 1919. Perhaps he was a relative of Mrs.Mary Peet who was the school’s nurse during the late 1970s and the 1980s.

Samuel Littler was born on May 16th 1891. He entered the school on September 16th 1903 aged twelve. The family lived at 8, Appleton Gate, Newark-on-Trent, and his father, a veterinary surgeon, was also called Samuel Littler. Samuel junior left in July 1908.

Vincent George Meigh entered the school as an Agnes Mellers scholar on September 12th 1899 aged ten, the cost of his place in the school automatically paid for. His father was George Meigh, a schoolmaster of 3, Willoughby Avenue, Lenton. Vincent left in December, 1903.

meigh ccccc
On the mantelpiece, one set of letters to set the heart a-flutter is “(illegible)BALL  1900-1907” , but this cannot be the famous air ace, as there are clearly a fair number of letters before the B-A-L-L. In any case, Albert Ball did not stay long in the High School, being expelled after an incident when he disrupted school assembly by emptying a large bag of bullseyes, gobstoppers and bouncing sweets onto the floor.

Best fit is probably Oliver Herbert Ball, who was born on August 13th 1891. He had entered the school on January 17th 1900, aged eight, as the third of three brothers. Oliver was to leave in July 1907. His mother was called Emma, and his father was Alfred Holmes Ball, the “Laundry Man” of “Sunnyside”, Daybrook, Notts.  Presumably, this was the company which was eventually to become the massive “Daybrook Laundry”.’ It was situated opposite the Home Brewery on the Mansfield Road, and was only recently demolished during the first decade of the twenty first century. The Arnold branch of the “Aldi” supermarket chain has now been built on this site during the latter part of 2014. It was open for business by the end of the year. Look for the orange arrow:

north nottingham

During the Great War, Oliver Ball was to serve as a Second Lieutenant in the 10th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment.  Aged only twenty five, he was killed on September 28th 1916 and is buried in the Guards’ Cemetery at Lesboeufs in France. Oliver’s  death was part of the Somme offensive.  He shares the cemetery with 1,492 identified casualties, and a grand total of 3.136 men.

oh ball

Oliver Ball’s elder brother was Walter William Ball, the second son of the three, and himself an Old Nottinghamian. Walter had returned to the Western Front, and the Yorkshire Regiment, from his leave in Nottingham on Friday, November 19th 1915. The “Nottingham Guardian” reported his death on Monday, November 29th 1915. He had apparently been shot through the head by a sniper while organising a firing party with his captain. The tragic news was communicated to his parents by his younger brother, Second Lieutenant Oliver Ball, who held a commission in the same regiment. According to the “Nottingham Guardian”, Walter was “well-known in Nottingham and had a large circle of friends”. He had received his commission as a Second Lieutenant a mere twelve months previously. Walter is buried in Houplines Communal Cemetery Extension in France, Plot 1, Row A, Grave 21. He was 28 years of age.

ww ball

As far as I can trace, the third brother seems to have survived the war.

One of the more notable objects on the mantelpiece is perhaps the school badge which has been carved relatively large, and in primitive style, with the lozenge and the three merles or heraldic blackbirds still recognisable even now, the best part of a century after it was executed by some unknown, juvenile artist.

badge cccccccc c

Less time proof perhaps, are the boys who managed to carve only their initials, namely “JL”, “MV”, either “WA” or “WR”, and either “BFW” or “SFW”. It is just so difficult to be certain about whose initials they might be. In some cases, there are literally dozens of possible candidates in the school registers, and it becomes almost a pointless effort to try and guess who has carved them.

Some boys seem to have been able to make only part of their name legible. We appear to have, therefore, a group of letters which seems to spell “H-LLF”.

Similarly, I have tried so hard to turn “—-NGTON” into Victor George Darrington, one of the very few young men to have captained the school at both football and rugby. The time is right (he entered the school in 1909, aged twelve) but the fact is that the blurred and multi-layer gloss paint painted-over obscured letters just do not look like they were ever meant to spell Darrington.

Even more striking is the young member of what is probably the “Chambers” family who did not manage to carve his initials clearly. The name can be seen just above “A.E.Anthony”, although the letters seem to be an even whiter shade of pale.  Just a cursory perusal of the school registers reveals the existence, between 1897 and 1926, of “E.Chambers”, “W. Chambers”, “P. Chambers”, “N. Chambers”, “J.F. Chambers”, “J.S. Chambers”, “A. Chambers”, “C.G. Chambers”, “J. Chambers”, “B.J. Chambers”, “C.C. Chambers”,  “S.H. Chambers”, “D.B. Chambers”, and a second “W. Chambers”

chambers 1zzzzzzzzzzzz

No doubt a really thorough search would reveal even more members of the apparently vast Chambers clan.
It would be nice to think, though, that the perpetrator was the (uninitialled) Chambers of Form IVb, whose doings are reported in the Prefects’ Book for Thursday, February 1st 1912….

“…A meeting was held before afternoon school, Towles and Haubitz (prefects) being absent. Chambers (IVb) had been reported for carrying a loaded revolver in his pocket. He admitted the offence, and produced the weapon, which proved to be loaded in four chambers. He was requested not to bring it to school again, and the School Captain decided to interview the Headmaster.”

Most unfortunately, no record has survived of the outcome of this conversation. Here again, it is possible to guess at putative friendships between the names in the stone. Two of the boys, for example, Fred Ball Ludlow and Oliver Herbert Ball, both joined the school in 1900, and their entries are virtually next to each other in the School Register. Perhaps the use of the surname of one as the middle name of the other hints at a blood relationship, rather than just one of mere friendship.
Coincidentally, a third name on this single ancient page of the school register is that of Harold Binks, who entered the school in the very same year of 1900, although Harold was never to carve his own name on the fireplace. From his reminiscences, published in April 1935, we know that one of his best friends in the Senior School was called Ball. It seems likely too that another of the friends was Oswald Cornek Gillot, who was already in the school when Ludlow, Ball and Binks arrived. All these boys were of the same age, and they all left the school in the latter part of the academic year 1906-1907. As we have already noted, Gillot lived near distant Ilkeston, but Holmes lived in Gregory Street, Old Lenton, very close to Ludlow and Meigh who themselves both lived in the same street, namely Willoughby Avenue, Lenton. Again, we can imagine two keeping watch while the third one carried out the evil deed with his penknife.

On Thursday, June 7th 1917, just  ten years after carving his name on the stone fireplace, Oswald Cornek Gillott was killed at the age of twenty six, yet another hapless victim of the Great War. Even a school as small as the High School (400  pupils) was to provide some three hundred young men, all destined to die well before their time.

After he left the school, Oswald moved to Teesside, and became a twenty year old apprentice mechanical engineer living at 2, Woodland Terrace, Borough Road, Middlesbrough, Yorkshire. When the Great War came, Oswald joined the 68th Field Company of The Royal Engineers. They trained at Newark-on-Trent before sailing from Liverpool for Gallipoli at the end of June 1915. They remained at Lala Baba in Suvla Bay until December 19th and 20th 1915, when they withdrew and returned to Egypt by the end of January. Oswald was recorded as having been wounded during this period. In June 1916 the Division was ordered to France to reinforce the Third Army on the Somme. By July, they were in the Front Line and took part in the fighting at Thiepval. In early 1917 they were fighting on the Ancre, and then moved north to Flanders for the Battle of Messines
Messines_Ridge_from_Hill_63 cccccccSecond Lieutenant Oswald Gillott’s last day on Earth was June 7th 1917, coincidentally no doubt, the first day of the successful attack on the Messines Ridge.  The assault was preceded by the detonation of nineteen large mines, in what was described at the time as “the loudest explosion in human history”. Oswald, as a member of the Royal Engineers, may well have been involved in this activity when he was killed. On the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website there are a mere three pages of Gillotts, with only thirty two men of this name killed. Oswald Gillott lies in the Messine Ridge British Cemetery in Mesen, West-Vlaanderen in Belgium along with the 577 of his colleagues whose remains have been identified.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Second Lieutenant Gillott, aged twenty seven was one of a trifling 24,562 casualties, as the British under Field Marshal Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer, 1st Viscount Plumer, GCB GCMG GCVO GBE slowly began to learn how to fight battles at much lower costs than previously. (Battle of the Somme, 623,907 dead).

The other side of the coin, of course, is the fact that if the Field Marshall and his lordly colleagues are not much more careful with the lives of their social inferiors, they will risk actually running out of men. The  623,907 men killed in the Battle of the Somme is a catastrophe, but the apparently much lower figure of 24,562 killed during the assault on Messine Ridge could well be regarded as every single man in a town the size of, say, present-day Arnold or Newark-on-Trent.

One set of initials I have not dealt with. That is F.C.Mahin, one of the High School’s very few Americans, and I will talk about his incredible and hitherto completely unknown life in another blog post.

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Criminology, History, Humour, Nottingham, The High School

“Where are the snows of yesteryear?”

Over the centuries, the weather can often be extreme, and some amazingly strange things have happened. In 1110, nearly a thousand years ago, Nottingham experienced a terrifying earthquake. Bizarrely, the River Trent dried up for several hours, presumably as it drained into, and then eventually filled up, a huge new crack in the ground that it had created somewhere upstream.

In the Nottingham of 1682, extremely low temperatures lasted from September until February of the next year. Shortages of coal, wood and food were caused by difficulties in the transport system, and  the fields, roads and rivers were all frozen up. The Trent, for example, was completely impossible to navigate throughout the entire period of the freeze.

It was equally cold in 1855 when a cricket match was played on the frozen River Trent. The victors roasted, and ate, the greater part of a whole sheep without the ice either melting or giving way. When the thaw set in, an iceberg weighing many tons was unleashed in the river and it destroyed a bridge downstream when it crashed into it.

6419523017_ebf7e7e31c

A local solicitor, William Parsons, recorded the weather’s outrages in his diary:

“In 1814, we had so severe a frost as to freeze the Trent over, the first time I believe. It continued 16 weeks. The Trent was then so frozen that a fair was held and oxen, sheep and pigs were roasted.”

In 1838, the River Trent froze over at the beginning of the year. William’s entry for January 20th reads:

“The frost has now continued about twelve days but with greater severity than is remembered. Many thousands from Nottingham went to see the Trent today. The frost continues extremely severe. The Trent this afternoon is now frozen completely over and I was sliding upon it just above Trent Bridge.  I shall visit it tomorrow again it being of rare occurrence to be frozen. The snow continues upon the ground about six inches deep. My hands are very severely chapped that I am now writing in kid gloves”.

He described the river as:

“in that state frozen it appeared like a frothy, foaming river of snow. Many people were crossing on the ice. I walked down to the bridge and crossed the river just above it where numbers were also winding their way through projecting masses of snow covered in ice. The river was more rough and picturesque in this part than in any other.”

The most charming thing about William’s diary is his great honesty. As regards the consumption of alcohol in very large quantities, he was a man many years before his time:

“Time worse than wasted, money spent, health injured, myself debased! Let these days of drunken, senseless riot be remembered only as incitements to become a rigid teetotaller”.

We’ve all been there.

6419523525_986f696990

The River Trent was a very different river in those days and that is why it used to freeze fairly regularly during exceptionally cold weather. There were, of course, no power stations releasing huge quantities of warm water which might increase the natural temperature of the river, but that is not the most fundamental reason for the change. Nowadays, the waters of the Trent have been for the most part  tamed and confined firmly in great ramparts of concrete. Because of the way in which the river has been turned into a giant canal, it is now much deeper and fast flowing than it used to be. The edges of the river do not extend outwards in leisurely fashion into marshes or shallow ponds with very little flow. The modern Trent no longer stretches, as it did in primeval times, from the sandstone cliffs south of St Mary’s Church for many, many hundreds of yards into present day West Bridgford. And the old wide river, of course, was a shallow, more slow flowing river, the kind of waterway that was much more likely to freeze in severe weather.

St Mary’s Church is in the top left of the map, near to the word “Museum”. It is represented by a cross and a square joined together. Trent Bridge is indicated by the orange arrow, and the southern edge of the waters centuries ago would have been well to the south of the present day B679 (bottom left of the map) or the Trent Valley Way (top middle right of the map).

old trent bridge

In those ancient of days, when the river was so very much wider, the only safe crossing, either on  foot or on horseback, was across the band of harder rock where Trent Bridge now stands.

images8WR58W3V

On January 16th 1892, on a “piercingly cold” Saturday, Nottingham Forest played Newcastle East End at the City Ground. When the crowd arrived at Trent Bridge, they were surprised to see “skating in progress on the old course of the River Trent.”  Because of the recent introduction of the penalty kick, the frozen football pitch had some new markings, which in this case were made of broad strips of black soot. Newcastle changed from their normal crimson shirts into black and white stripes. Hopefully, before the game, Old Nottinghamian Tinsley Lindley, Forest’s centre forward, was able to walk across the Trent to the game, just like Brian Clough used to do.

NTGM006720

Three years later, in 1895, the river froze for the last time. Again, the region’s economy suffered. Numerous tributary rivers smaller than the Trent were also frozen, and many jetties and warehouses became unusable. This caused huge job losses in local industry.

MS 258/3

The river was caught in this devastating frost for almost a fortnight.  Skaters were able to venture onto the safe and solid ice over many miles of the Trent’s length. The ice was thick enough to allow a hockey game between teams from Newark and Burton-on-Trent to take place on a pitch somewhere upstream from Averham Weirs.

Here a huge crowd of boys are standing on the thick ice. Everybody looks very happy, but there were several fatalities, as people contrived to find excessively thin ice to stand on. Lady Bay Bridge can just be seen through the arches of Trent Bridge.

freezes caption 1

And not a scarf or a pair of gloves in sight. Kids were tough, and Health and Safety hadn’t even been thought of yet.

The photograph above was taken from opposite the West Bridgford embankment, to the south of Trent Bridge, near to the present day County Hall. Look for the orange arrow:

county hall

In places the extreme frost, the most severe in living memory, penetrated into the ground so deeply that it froze the tap water in the mains. Ordinary people suffered greatly and many had no water supply whatsoever, a parlous situation which was to last for several weeks. To overcome this most basic of problems, stand-pipes fitted with taps were set up at various places in the streets, and buckets could be filled up there. January and February of 1895 was a time of difficulty and danger for ordinary people and those who survived it were to remember it for the rest of their lives.
caption 2

In the photograph above, a fire can be seen burning against the bridge, one of the many which blazed happily on the surface of the ice. The river’s rate of flow is reduced by the ice floes so much that it is almost reminiscent of a river during a drought.

During these bitterly cold winters at the turn of the twentieth century, my grandfather, Will, who had emigrated to Canada around 1905, saw Niagara Falls, for the large part frozen, on at least one occasion, this postcard dating most probably from 1911.

naiagara

2 Comments

Filed under History, Nottingham, Science, Wildlife and Nature

A child minding dilemma

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

Saturday, June 11, 1988

I walk back home from the local newsagents, my eyes peeled as always for the odd brilliant white Gyrfalcon, soaring over the City Hospital. But, as always, without any luck.

zzzz gyr

Suddenly, a big brown raptor comes into sight, making its way purposefully along the Ring Road, flying along the line of the valley, heading roughly eastwards.

surf marsh harrier

At first, because of the time of year, I presume that it must be an Osprey, although I can’t really imagine why, because it doesn’t look anything like an Osprey and it isn’t carrying a fish.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzz  osprey-with-bass

For a start, it has an obviously pale, or even white head. It is this latter feature that makes me realise that it is a Marsh Harrier.

zzzzz  marsh_harier_

Then there is an agonising decision to face. Do I run a home like the clappers, and then the bird will become eligible to be included in my “Seen from the Garden List”? If it were left to me, there would be no contest, but the problem is that I have my Baby Daughter, aged two, asleep in my arms. Mum will be a bit displeased if I plonk her down on the pavement and leave her, just so that I can see the same bird a second time, only thirty seconds after I have seen it for the first time, although, granted, from a different place. So, I forget the idea of momentarily hanging Baby Daughter on somebody’s front fence, and walk maturely on, trying to persuade myself that moral ticks count just as much as real ones do. It’s a lot more difficult to make these decisions when you’ve only just moved house and your Garden List is not yet in double figures.

Twenty six years later and I still haven’t seen an enormous number of raptors from my back garden. Sparrowhawks are probably the commonest.

zzzzz sparrow

In nearly thirty years, there has only ever been one Kestrel.

zzzzzzzCommon_kestrel_in_flight

I have seen a good number of Common Buzzards.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz_Buzzard---Frisa

I have also seen Peregrines on several occasions, but this is because the latter now nest on the top of the Newton Building in South Sherwood Street in the middle of the City.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The best bird of all has been Red Kite, which is a good bird to see out in the countryside of wildest Nottinghamshire, never mind in a suburb of its largest conurbation. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Birds of prey, or raptors, are notoriously difficult to identify, and fleeting glimpses, often without binoculars, quite often make you feel that you may have seen a particular species, but, alas, not well enough, or with enough certainty, to add it to your Garden List. In this category would be Hobby, Goshawk and Rough-Legged Buzzard.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2 Comments

Filed under Nottingham, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature