Monthly Archives: June 2015

An insect with a billion friends

This story is an extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”.

These events all took place on Friday, October 28, 1988, which was the fourth day of my stay on the Isles of Scilly:

“A late lie-in this morning, with the Radde’s Warbler ticked off, and little else to get up for, certainly not at five o’clock in the morning:

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I eagerly consume a splendid Scillonian breakfast made up of every conceivable Identified Frying Object, with the possible exception of haggis, although this could well be the single mysterious item which I cannot identify with absolute certainty. Then it’s a leisurely walk down to the Porthcressa Restaurant where the magic blackboard promises Melodious Warbler at the Garrison. With a bit of luck, I might see that, and then go over to St Agnes for the Short toed Lark. I walk up the horrendously steep slopes of the hill to the Garrison, and start looking…

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Unsuccessful after a couple of hours, I return to Hugh Town, the Big City. I find that I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity facing me. It’s not a bird, but a flying creature just as rare as any of the birds which reach the Scillies. It’s a Locust. Only the fourth or fifth ever to be blown to these rocky isles. At the moment, it is being housed in an art gallery in a backstreet. I stroll over there and find that the insect is living happily in a vivarium on the counter. It is a truly splendid and beautiful creature, far better than any of the birds that I have seen on the Scillies, including the juvenile Rose-coloured Starling:

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I could even imagine this magnificent insect being used as a powerful argument for the existence of God, particularly in mediaeval times.  It is constructed so wonderfully skilfully that it becomes a classic example of the Celestial Watchmaker. It has one set of protective plates inside another, and then another beyond that. It looks like a knight in armour, but instead of being as dry as dust and rusty like something in an old stately home, this is a live being and it can move. It is a child’s clockwork toy that has the gift of life.

I am surprised by two things. Firstly, the creature’s colour, or rather colours, for it is at one and the same time, both yellow and pink and orange and sandy. I am shocked too by the size. I have never seen a Locust before, and it is absolutely huge. At least to a person like me who leaves the room when the zookeepers take the tarantula out of the glass case, or somebody who thinks that ladybirds are fierce.
The gentleman in the shop tells me that the creature was found on the local beach and was brought to his gallery so it could be drawn and photographed. He quite clearly and obviously is very attached to his six legged guest and seems to be well on the way to regarding it as his very own pet, or at the very least as an attraction to his gallery. Apparently, the British Museum have already contacted him and told him that he must kill it immediately, put it in a cardboard box, and send it to them in a parcel as a scientific specimen:

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I am totally appalled and disgusted by this news. I cannot find the words to capture my feelings. It seems somehow so repulsive to kill this beautiful innocent creature which has had to fight so hard for life. It has crossed the Atlantic in all probability, or has perhaps arrived here all the way from West Africa. Now it’s happily munching English grass, but soon it is supposed to die at the whim of some cold hearted scientist who has taken upon himself the right to dole out life or death. It seems to be taking such an advantage of an insect’s lack of awareness and essentially innocent existence.

The gallery owner, I feel, would rather not kill the insect, but keep it. I do try to tell him that in all probability it belongs to him, and that the British Museum have no legal right whatsoever to tell him to do what he does not want to do, and still less to actually make him do it.

Strangely, it seems to be to no purpose. The  gallery owner seems overawed by the demands of an organisation as apparently so powerful as the British Museum. And presumably, the locust will have to die. It is so sad that we should be given the chance to meet such an exotic and unusual member of God’s family, but should then lack the reasoning power to do anything more creative or imaginative than to kill it.
I would hope that I personally could do better than that, if put in the position of having to look after a stray innocent. At the very least though, I will remain the only person with a framed, but not autographed, picture of a locust above the fireplace…Even if it is only when my wife is out of the house.

Years and years later and I am sure that I read somewhere that the poor unfortunate locust was not  killed for the British Museum, but instead was allowed by its admiring owner to live out its life in its little vivarium on the counter of his gallery. Unfortunately, I have been unable to substantiate this, as I have long forgotten where I read the wonderful news. Locusts continue to reach the shores of our freezing wet little island, but only on very rare occasions. Certainly, there has been nothing like the situation in 1869 when whole swarms of Desert Locusts reached England, apparently from West Africa.

Cruel scientists still insist on killing creatures to prove what they are, and there was considerable outcry a few years ago, when a Californian ornithologist, I think it was, killed the first Arctic Redpoll ever to be found in that state. This, of course, is why Bigfoot keeps such a low profile for somebody who is nine or ten feet tall. He knows he exists, so why should he get himself killed just so that other people can?

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Filed under Cornwall, History, Personal, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

The Officer Training Corps 1915 Part Three

This photograph shows the Officer Training Corps in 1915. You might be forgiven for thinking that they are all far too young to have left the school, to have immediately joined the army, trained as officers, gone to the Western Front and then been killed. But you would be wrong. Three of the twelve were to be lost, although this is a much better casualty rate than the rugby team of Boxing Day, 1913. On the other hand, though, it is still a staggering 25%!

Previously, I have written about the eventual fate of the teachers, and I have talked about the fate of the three boys who were destined to die in the Great War. This time I will try to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the remaining nine boys, all of whom, you will be pleased to know, came back home from the  fields of Flanders.

Once again, here are the names. On the back row of the photograph are, left to right, F.A.Bird, J.R.Coleman, D.J.Clarkson, J.Marriott, A.W.Barton, G.R.Ballamy, S.I.Wallis and W.D.Willatt.

On the front row are, left to right, L.W.Foster, V.G.Darrington, Second Lieutenant J.L.Kennard, Captain G.F.Hood, Second Lieutenant L.R.Strangeways, G.James and R.I.Mozley:

otc 1915

If J.Marriott was John Marriott, then a wild guess says that his father, or perhaps even grandfather, may have been Frank Marriott, an Old Boy of the school who played First XI football from 1868 at least, and then played nine times for Notts County between 1872-1874. Frank’s own father was John Marriott, a victualler, of Warser Gate in Nottingham. In England, a victualler was the keeper of an inn, a tavern or a restaurant, who had a licence to sell alcohol.

G.R.Ballamy was the brother of Harold William Ballamy, the Captain of Football in 1912. The family lived at 17a, Gedling Grove, Nottingham. I will be writing a blogpost about Harold Ballamy in the future. This is the family’s house in Gedling Grove, which nowadays is just behind the northbound High School tram stop:

ballamy 2

S.I.Wallis left the High School for the Army. He became a Lieutenant in the Sikhs/Pioneers and then a Captain in the same unit. He was also at various times, a Captain in the Indian Army Reserve of Officers and the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

On May 29th 1915, William Donald Willatt was to play for the 2nd XI cricket team against Derby Grammar School 2nd XI. He scored five runs before he was out to Shellard leg before wicket. William was the school Fives champion on one occasion, a title also won by his brother, Victor Guy Willatt. Fives was a Victorian and Edwardian version of Squash, using a fingerless leather glove to bash a ball made of cork, gutta percha and leather. Not a game for softies! Here is the school Fives Court:

best fives

In partnership with a fellow pupil, Roy Henderson, William was later to start a school magazine called “The Highvite”. By Henderson’s own admission, it was “a pretty dreadful magazine”, and it only survived because it was financed by a variety of different adverts. The two enterprising young men went round to canvas support from local companies, shops such as Sisson & Parker and many other businesses. This screen capture shows the moment William was promoted to temporary Second Lieutenant in the Somerset Light Infantry:

Capture   willatt xxxxxxxxAt the end of the war, he could walk away:

Capture   willatt.JPG  two zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzEventually, William became the Vicar of St.Martin’s, Sherwood:

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At this time, he was living in West Bridgford. In 1949, a W.D.Willatt became Vicar of Edwalton, a post which he held until 1955. This was presumably the same man.

G.James has proved difficult to trace and I have found out very little about him. In the 1912-1913 football season, he played at left half or right half for the 1st XI. The School Magazine reported that he:

 “Plays a good defensive game sometimes, but completely fails to help the attack.”

A year later, in 1913-1914, he played more or less exclusively as a right half. We also have his contributions to what seems a heated debate about various matters of school discipline. At this time, the Prefects were more or less in charge of this aspect of school life:

“On April 29th 1915, at 4.15 p.m., all of the Prefects met to discuss a “revision of the rules of discipline”. With reference to Rule 18, G.James suggested that attendance at the Officer Training Corps be made compulsory. This was seconded by School Captain, L.M.Clark, and carried unanimously. J.H.Boyd, the Captain of School Cricket, then suggested that games also be made compulsory. Again, the motion was carried unanimously.”

Young James was obviously a young man well ahead of his time, because he then went on to put forward the idea that three afternoons a week should be allocated to games, or perhaps two to games and one to military training:

“Unfortunately, his idea was not supported, the rest of the Prefects thinking that this would involve a too sweeping reform of the school time table.”

Presumably, from a logistical point of view, even with perhaps four afternoons available, it would have been completely impossible for a large proportion of the High School, which now numbered almost five hundred boys, all to play sport simultaneously, at a sports ground designed to accommodate perhaps only a hundred boys at a time.

L.W.Foster, or Lancelot Wilson Foster, to give him his full name, remains a figure about whom I have discovered just unrelated snippets. Before the Great War, the Fifth Form, (Year 11), always used to play their football under cover, in the sheds tucked under the Forest Road wall. They were noted for kicking the ball against the wall in an effort to get past their opponent. The Fifth Form usually played mainly in the eastern half of the sheds:

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This is the view in the other direction:

one west

Among these fifteen and sixteen year old boys, Lancelot Foster was remembered as a particularly good full back. In 1915, Roy Henderson, of “Highvite” fame, arranged a summer camp at a farm near Grantham in Lincolnshire. Six boys, all members of his father’s church, went with him. They were all Prefects, and comprised three pairs of friends, Harold Connop and Francis Bird, Thomas Wright and Lancelot Foster, and John Boyd and Roy Henderson.

In the Great War, Lancelot Wilson Foster became Lieutenant Foster of the 9th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters He survived the carnage and in 1929, was living in Buglawton Vicarage, Cheshire, presumably as the vicar.

Victor George Darrington, lived at “The Limes” in Eastwood. He was born on November 25th 1896 and entered the High School on September 23rd 1909, at the age of twelve. His father was William Darrington, the Schoolmaster at the School House in Eastwood. As such, he must surely have taught the young D.H.Lawrence, who was born and bred in this mining village, before continuing his education at the High School in September 1898. Perhaps William Darrington was the person who encouraged the budding young author to sit for a scholarship to the High School:

dh-lawrence

From 1938 to 1939, William was Mayor of Eastwood:

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Victor was in the team which won the Football Eights competition in 1912. He was a regular member of the First Team in the 1913-1914 season, playing at either centre half or left half. The decision having been taken to switch from football to rugby in the Spring Term of 1915, the First and Second Football Teams played their last ever fixtures during the Autumn Term of 1914. At this sad time, Victor duly became the last High School Captain of Football until 1968. During this Autumn Term, Victor was also the Captain of the School.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, given that there was an imminent change of sport in the offing, neither of the two football teams seems to have had their hearts in it, and their results were very disappointing. The Nottinghamian does not appear to have listed any of the players who took part. After the demise of football, Victor was to become the school’s first Captain of Rugby, a post he was to retain during the following season of 1915-1916.

During the Great War, Victor became a Lieutenant, firstly in the Royal Field Artillery, and then in the newly formed Royal Air Force:

T0Badge-Front

He was wounded on May 30th 1916, and then again on September 29th of the same year. He survived the conflict, and in 1922, was awarded a Diploma in Forestry at Oxford. Victor returned to Nottinghamshire, and in 1929, he was still living at “The Limes”, in Eastwood.

I will be writing a blogpost about Victor George Darrington in the future.

 

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Filed under Football, France, History, Nottingham, The High School

A very long way from home

If you cast your minds back what seems now a very long time, my continuing researches about the German bomber shot down in St.Just in western Cornwall on September 27th 1942 , had led me to the cemetery in Penzance:

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Of the seventy one Second World War burials in this cemetery, the grave of one particular sailor is very noticeable, because he lies such a very, very, long way from his home.

His name was Earl William Graham. Earl was an Able Seaman in the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (R.C.N.V.R):

March 29th 1945 cropped

Earl was born in 1917, the son of Arthur John Graham and Gertrude Graham. He was the husband of Regina Graham, of Preston, Ontario, Canada:

ontario

Earl Graham, aged just twenty eight, was serving on board H.M.C.S. Teme (K 458) not far off Land’s End, in position 50º07’N, 05º45’W. At 08.22 hours  on March 29th 1945, just six or seven weeks from the end of the conflict, the warship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-315. The Teme was hit in the stern and the rear sixty feet of the ship was blown off.
Three sailors were blown into the sea by the explosion, and poor Earl Williams was killed outright. The Teme might well have been thought, perhaps, an unlucky ship. It had already been the apparently jinxed victim of a significant collision, when an aircraft carrier struck her amidships in the Bay of Biscay in June 1944. The Teme only just avoided being sliced completely in half:

Capture

The “Teme” had been escorting the convoy BTC-111 off Land’s End. The Canadian warship had been “sweeping” to the rear of the convoy of merchant ships when it was attacked. Debris was flung some fifty feet into the air, and one man, later ascertained to be the unfortunate Earl Williams, was blown from the quarter deck up onto the after gun deck. He died moments later from his injuries. The three other seamen were never seen again, although they were initially posted as “missing in action”.
My internet researches have revealed their names as Gordon Walter Bolin, Thomas Joseph Hackett and Robert Everett Rowe. Thomas Hackett’s body was eventually found and his remains are buried in Falmouth Cemetery in Cornwall. Gordon Bolin and Robert Rowe, sadly, were never found, and their supreme sacrifice is commemorated on the Halifax Memorial, along with 2,842 others.
On this occasion, it took twelve hours to tow the mortally stricken “Teme” to Falmouth in Cornwall but the ship was so badly damaged that it was declared a Constructive Total Loss (CTL). A legal definition of the latter is…

“Insured property that has been abandoned because its actual total loss appears to be unavoidable, or because it could not be preserved or repaired without an expenditure which would exceed its value.”

The “Teme” was a Frigate of the River class, with a tonnage of some 1,370 tons. It had only just been completed in 1944 at Smith’s Dock Co Ltd, South Bank, Middlesbrough, in the north east of England. The ship was decommissioned and returned to the Royal Navy on May 4th 1945. They sold it to be broken up for scrap on December 8th 1945. So far researches are ongoing but the names of at least eight people serving on the ship are known:

frigate_river_hmcs_teme dertfyThe U315 operated with a grand total of some thirteen different Wolfpacks during its career, in some cases for just a few days. Their names included Blitz, Donner, Grimm and Panther. Launched at Flender Werke AG, Lübeck  on May 29th 1943, the U-315 went on eleven different patrols, and was commanded throughout by Oberleutnant Herbert Zoller:

zoller_herbert

The submarine surrendered at Trondheim, Norway on May 9th 1945. The craft was declared unseaworthy. and cut up for scrap on site in Norway in March 1947. I have been unable to trace any photographs of the U-315, but here is another Type VIIC U-Boat, the U-995, currently on display at the Laboe Naval Memorial near Kiel. Do not fail to click on the link to the German website, and make sure that you try the Panorama views. They are guaranteed to scare you (top of the tower) or make you very seasick indeed. Just look for the three yellow-orange circles on the photograph:

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The U-315 did not suffer a single casualty throughout its fifteen month career, and sank only two ships, the Teme and the Empire Kingsley, a merchant vessel of just under 7,000 tons:

empire_kingsleyI would highly recommend this website about U-Boats. It has a vast database of the more than 80,000 people who were in the crews of ships attacked by U-boats, as well as the most astounding detail about the U-boats themselves. I was also strongly attracted by the “U-boat of the Day” feature (bottom left).

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Filed under Canada, Cornwall, History

Aliens take refuge in Cornish Parish Church

In August 2008, as we always have done, we spent our family holiday in Cornwall. On August 14th, in the late morning, we went to visit the parish church in Germoe, a tiny, tiny village, between Penzance and Helston in the very west of the county. Look for the orange arrow:

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The church, like every ancient church in this part of the world, is built on or near the site of a pagan sacred well, in this case St Germoe’s Holy Well, which was renamed in honour of the patron saint of this little church, St Germoe:

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Germoe was a young Irishman from around 450 A.D.. This was just after the fall of the Roman Empire, in the so-called “Dark Ages”. Germoe was one of the disciples of St Patrick who came, or perhaps more probably, were sent, to convert the bloodthirsty savages of West Cornwall, such as their fierce War Chief, Teudar, to Christianity. Almost seven hundred years after this, in the eleventh century, the Normans built a church on the site. This original church was then in its turn replaced by a second church in the fourteenth century. The churchyard contains a strange little arched building known as St Germoe’s Chair. Supposedly, it was a shrine covering the bones of St Germoe, which sounds lovely, except that we know that there is no trace whatsoever of anybody’s bones under the structure:

220px-St_Germoe's_Chair_-

On either side of the church door are the quaintly carved “Germoe Monkeys” which supposedly represent long tailed monkeys of some kind and are said to ward off evil. As far as I can trace, nobody has ever thought it at all unusual that the peasant builders of a remote fourteenth century church should have a knowledge of monkeys:

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Perhaps they are not monkeys! It’s very hard to tell after so many centuries of erosion. Most of it since 1900.

At this time, of course, Cornwall was a place where English was not spoken. Few, if any roads connected this Celtic speaking area with England, and the inhabitants of the county regarded themselves as a separate country. So how did they know about monkeys?

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Personally, I have always enjoyed the brightly coloured glass windows, straight from a Hammer Horror film. You almost expect Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee to peer through them:

Most spectacular of all in the church, however, is the font. Nothing is known about its origin except that it is very, very ancient:

font

The stone structure is certainly pre-Norman Conquest (1066) and equally, cannot really be connected to the Celtic era of St Germoe. At this time, deep in the Dark Ages, baptisms are known to have taken place in the Holy Well, as a demonstration to the local pagans of the superior powers of the Christian faith. Any fonts were placed in as low a position as possible, because a baptism in this era always included the washing of the feet.
In my humble opinion, as they say, the font is not at all a Christian font but an object of veneration from a much. much older religion, forgotten for countless centuries, and perhaps older than even the Romans.  The faces carved on the side. I believe, are those of their gods, these unknown people  from so long ago.
One face has a chip on it, which looks like a tear and must surely represent the sadness of a long forgotten entity who knows that he is divine, but who now has no worshippers to emphasise that fact:

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The other face is much more intriguing and always seems so very, very poignant.

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To me it always looks like a sad alien, marooned here for ever, unable to return to his own planet.

Perhaps I should contact Giorgio Tsoukalos on Discovery History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens”?

ancient aliens

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The Beast of the Vosges

The Beast of the Vosges is a fairly recent monster to rampage through the French countryside and it has a very different flavour from the Beast of Gévaudan, the Beast of the Cevennes, the Beast of Trucy or the Beast of Sarlat. Its victims, for example, were not human beings but rather livestock, much like the modern monsters of the USA such as the Grassman of Perry County, Ohio or the Devil Dog of Logan County, West  Virginia.

And there were more than just one Beasts of the Vosges. The first struck between 1975-1977 and the second reared his enraged, ugly head from 1994-1995.  And then a third Beast appeared as recently as 2011.

But first, some geography. The Vosges are in the east of France:

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They are mountains which are much lower than the Alps and they do not have the same snow capped peaks. They are more rounded, with conifers and moorland:

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While not a top tourist destination, the Vosges are famous for their savoury cuisine and their beers, both of which look towards Germany and the east for inspiration.

For the Beast, once again, I will look at a number of French cryptozoological websites and you can take your own average between them. “Vampire Dark News” says:

“The “Beast of the Vosges” is one of the favourite topics of discussion for residents of the local cafés. Everyone remembers the ravages of this strange creature from 1977 to 1988.(these dates differ from other sources).  It killed more than 300 animals, between Epinal and Bresse (an area of over 150 square kilometres).  Poultry houses were attacked, horses were injured, at least 200 sheep were slaughtered … but there were no attacks against human beings.

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The animal would disappear only to reappear later and begin its misdeeds all over again. Was it a wolf?  A rabid dog?  Several stray dogs?  An animal trained to kill?  The mystery was never solved because nobody ever managed to get a really good look at the beast, neither hunters nor the police nor the military despite 26 hunts being  organized to kill it.  The Beast was able to avoid all the ambushes and all the traps.  Shot at several times from fairly closely range, the animal was never wounded or identified. The only conclusion was that it was some sort of canid.  And because of this, stray dogs were killed everywhere.

And then in 1994, a she-wolf that attacked flocks of sheep was saddled with the nickname of the “Beast of the Vosges”.

1994

It was filmed by an amateur and was active for several months before being found dead in 1995. Protected by a Decree of the Ministry of the Environment, the protected animal could not be hunted, at least officially.  But who buried the remains which were found in early 1995?

The name of the Beast of the Vosges was later given to a type of lager produced in the Vosges area.”

(My own translation)

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Wikipedia adds a few more details:

In December 1975, at Rambervillers, forest workers noticed footprints of a carnivore that they could not identify. In March 1976 , in Domèvre-sur-Durbion, seven cattle and a number of sheep were found slaughtered.  A few days later, cattle were the victims at Moriville and sheep at Hadigny-les-Verrières.  They accused the Beast of attacks on poultry sheds, of  injuring horses and of slaughtering at least two hundred sheep. No attack though was made against human beings  After a final attack on sheep on June 2, 1976 , nothing more was heard of the animal.
A few years later, in 1994 , a female wolf was given the nickname of the “Beast of the Vosges”.  For several months it maintained its attacks on  flocks of sheep, before its remains were found on May 19th 1995 .
In 2011, after an absence of some 17 years, the Beast again attacked flocks of sheep in the Vosges in the village of Ventron; forty sheep were found dead in less than a month.”

(My own translation)

Another well known cryptozoological website adds some extra, more scandalous suggestions :

“It all begins with a report on February 6th 1977 when Lucien Baret, a Federal Guard, is the witness as the beast stalks a roe deer in the woods at Rambervillier. It is some kind of enormous wolf-dog which hunts in the open without making the least noise. And then in less than ten months, not far short of 62 sheep, two lambs and a bullock weighing 300 kg have their throats cut out, and more than a dozen cattle are attacked.

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What seemed at first sight to be a mere footnote in a newspaper, just mentioning  feral dogs, now becomes transformed into an affair with a monster where everybody has their very own something to contribute. First of all the talk is of a wolf or a dog or a lynx. And then suspicion turns to human beings. Fingers are pointed at certain people, but the favourite is Herr Reinartz, the owner of a vast estate which partially covers sections of a more ancient hunting ground, the most frequently hunted area in the region. Furthermore this German industrialist is not particularly lucky because he has a name very like that of a Nazi colonel, Colonel Reinardt, who committed atrocities in the region during the Second World War, only thirty years previously. This is a similarity which fans the flames of old hatreds. Present day Monsieur Reinartz fears for his life. Has he imported a couple of wolves to guard his estate, but then they have escaped, as certain people claim? Certainly not. A wolf only attacks in certain conditions and these were not fulfilled here. The estate of Monsieur Reinartz being a hunting ground, the wolves would have had more than enough to eat without having to go beyond their enclosures in search of what they already had in their cage. A large cage covering several hectares but a cage nevertheless.
And against all expectations, the press goes wild. The German industrialist is attacked. Abuse is heaped upon him. He is insulted on the front page of certain newspapers. The affair goes to court. Had he been of another nationality, things would probably not have degenerated in this way. None of this, though, stopped flocks of sheep being ripped to pieces by the teeth of the beast:

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And then one day, roughly one year later,  everything just stops. No more massacres, no more animals to put out of their misery in the first light of morning. As mysteriously as it appeared, the Beast of the Vosges disappears. It flies away. All of this, of course, without anybody really understanding at all why. But after its disappearance, the Beast leaves lots of unanswered questions, and even 32 years later, tongues will not be loosened. There are a few clues perhaps, and doubtless some details are completely true, but the people who know, or who think they know, just add to the legend. One can well imagine what will have been written about this Beast in 210 years’ time when other people look at this business, in exactly the same way that we nowadays look back at the Beast of Gévaudan. How many arguments there will be in future generations between all the different viewpoints !
It is impossible not to see in this business numerous similarities with the Beast of Gévaudan. The same black magic seems to protect the animal which escapes through the fingers of the hunters on every single occasion . Beats are organised, but with only the same effectiveness of those of Duhamel in 1765, despite the fact they are now carried out with methods which the eighteenth century could not possibly have imagined. One day the Beast of the Vosges manages to escape its pursuers because one of the hunters is not at his post. A strange reminder of the indignation felt by the noblemen at Malzieu in 1765 when the Beast of Gévaudan was similarly allowed  to escape its pursuers because a guard was not in the correct place. And as one thing leads to another, people realise that this affair is not, in actual fact, very different from that of the Beast of Gévaudan. There are no human victims to pity, of course, but the chain of events is a mechanism which remains essentially the same for both affairs: first of all, people want to put things into perspective: it’s just a wolf. Everything will soon be taken care of. Then, as the Beast evades beats, traps and poisons, it becomes a tool of vengeance. In the Gévaudan of the eighteenth century the Bishop of Choiseul Beaupré sees the Beast as the avenging arm of God. In 1977, in the Vosges, it soon turns into a dog, radio controlled from some distance. But nobody will say a word about it. Nobody?”

 (My own translation)

This same website, and many others, contain the only three known photographs of the Beast of the Vosges. They prove it, apparently, to have been a canid of some sort, but not definitely a wolf. The account concludes with:

“always this question comes to everyone’s lips: the Beast, what was it? I asked Daniel Jumentier, who was present when the photos were taken, and he himself saw the Beast from afar

aa bete des vosges 1

The animal was probably a wolf dog cross, first or second generation, weighing at least sixty pounds.

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It was released to attack herds and flocks to hurt their owners.  Vengance between men, but through the intermediary of animals.  We can see two periods in the attacks: at first the Beast is confined to attacks on the plain, but then goes beyond La Bresse (a mountainous area) where it then goes wild. According to Daniel, one reason for this fit of madness: the loss of its master.”

And of course, unless somebody suddenly decides to speak up and reveal some hitherto hidden secret about this creature, we have reached the end of our investigation. Here some films to keep you going. The ancient ones date back as far as 1977, when Mankind’s existence was only occasionally slipping into colour:

And here is the second:

And this one shows that even a third comeback is not necessarily excessive:

There will be no more Beasts of the Vosges though. The Grey Wolf has now officially returned to the Vosges Mountains, thanks to the conservation efforts of a number of countries in the European Union, including Spain, Italy and Germany. Indeed, the Beast in 2011 was most probably one of the first two wolves who arrived in the Vosges that very year.  “Smile, you’re on Trailcam!”:

ATTAQUE DE LOUP

 

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by | June 10, 2015 · 2:15 pm

“The Memorial: Beyond The Anzac Legend” with Dr Neil Oliver

 

Recently I have been watching a TV series with Neil Oliver about the Australian War Memorial in Canberra:

poppies

It was called “The Memorial: Beyond The Anzac Legend” and it was on History Channel.
Here is the link.

The programmes examine what is being done to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, and in particular from an Australian point of view, the centenary of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

This is an extremely moving set of five programmes and in my opinion by far the best work that Dr Oliver has ever done on television:

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One episode featured the letters of two brothers initially from Manchester, England who then settled in South Australia and became Australians. The elder brother served as Second Lieutenant John Alexander Raws and his younger brother was Lieutenant Robert Goldthorpe Raws. After Gallipoli, they were both sent to France and the disastrous Battle of the Somme.

Robert was to die on either July 28th or 29th 1916 and John was killed shortly afterwards on August 23rd 1916. Their biographical details are available here. Firstly John Raws and then his brother Robert.
What makes it all so interesting is the fact that the letters home from the two officers have been preserved and can be downloaded from this link.

The best thing is to do is to download them as a 164 page PDF document. I actually right clicked the download link on my computer, and then I selected “Save target as”. I could then choose where the letters were downloaded on my computer. I am no computer wizard, and I found that if I just clicked “Download”, I couldn’t find them afterwards. At least two lost copies are just wandering around inside the machine somewhere.

The whole point about these letters is that, for some unknown reason, they came through to the people waiting at home without the censors doing anything about them. I have read a fair amount about the Great War and I have never come across any letters quite like these.

Some of the things said are just unbelievable by the censorship standards of the day. Just to encourage you to take that first step, here are a few extracts, with the page references:

Page 134

July 16, 1916

There is something rather humorous in this situation, when I actually come to it.

John Alexander Raws, who cannot tread upon a worm; who has never struck another human being except in fun; who cannot read of the bravery of others at the front without tears well into his eyes; who cannot think of blood, and mangled bodies, without bodily sickness, this man, I, go forth tomorrow to kill and maim,  murder and ravage.

It is funny.

But I am glad to go. It is what I set out for, and the mission must be fulfilled:

recruit

Pages 136 and 137

How we do think of home, and laugh at the pettiness of our little daily annoyances. We could not sleep, we remember, because of the creaking of the pantry door, all the noise of the tram cars, all the kids playing around and making a row.
Well, we can’t sleep now because six shells are bursting around here every minute, and you can’t get much sleep between them:
Guns are belching out shells, with the most thunderous clap each time;
The ground is shaking with each little explosion;
I am wet, and the ground on which I rest is wet;
My feet are cold. In fact, I’m all cold, with my two skimpy blankets;
I am covered with cold, clotted sweat, and sometimes my person is foul.
I am hungry;
I am annoyed because of the absurdity of bloody war;
I see no chance of anything better for tomorrow, or the day after, or the year
after;
One could go on and on…..
And don’t think I always sleep on the wet ground. I sometimes get a dry bit. And I had a hot bath yesterday, and I am clean-for the time. By the way, while I was having my bath, another officer of his Majesty’s gallant forces was blown to pieces a little way in front. He had just come out of the trenches and was going to have his bath.

page 140

July 25th 1916

I am still alive but living rather a risky existence, what with shells and bullets and bayonets…..

August 4th 1916

I write from the battlefield of the Great Push with thousands of shells passing in a tornado overhead and thousands of unburied dead around me. It seems easy to say that, but you who have not seen it can hardly conceive the awfulness of it all:

pozieres shatteredzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

My battalion has been in it for eight days, and one-third of it is left–all shattered at that. And they’re sticking it still, incomparable heroes all. We are lousy, stinking, ragged, unshaven, sleepless. Even when we’re back a bit we can’t sleep for our own guns. I have one puttee, a dead man’s helmet, another dead man’s gas protector, a dead man’s bayonet. My tunic is rotten with other men’s blood and partly splattered with a comrade’s brains.
It is horrible, but why should you people at home not know? Several of my friends are raving mad. I met three offices out in No Man’s Land the other night, all rambling and mad. Poor Devils!

Chateau_Wood_Ypres_1917

page 141

Myself, I am alright. I have had much luck and kept my nerve so far. The awful difficulty is to keep it. The bravest of all often lose it. Courage does not count here. It is all nerve. Once that goes one becomes a gibbering maniac. The noise of our own guns, the enemy shells, and the getting lost in the darkness.
You see this is enemy country. We’re in the remnants of their trenches and wrecked villages, and the great horror of many of us is the fear of being lost with troops at night on the battlefield. We do all our fighting and moving at night and the confusion of passing through a barrage of enemy shells in the dark is pretty appalling . You’ve read of the wrecked villages. Well some of these about here are not wrecked. They are utterly destroyed, so that there are not even skeletons of buildings left. Nothing but a churned mass of  débris, with bricks, stones and girders and bodies pounded to nothing. And forests! There are not even tree trunks left, not a leave or a twig. All is buried and churned up and buried again.
The sad part is that one can see no end of this. If we live tonight we have to go through it tomorrow night and next week and next month. Poor wounded devils you meet on the stretchers are laughing with glee. One cannot blame them. They are getting out of this.

pages 147 and 148

Just before daybreak, an engineer officer out there, who was hopelessly rattled, ordered us to go. The trench was not finished. I took it on myself to insist on the men staying, saying that any man who stopped digging would be shot. We dug on and finished amid a tornado of bursting shells. All the time, mind, the enemy flares are making the whole area almost as light as day. We got away as best we could. I was again in the rear going back, and again we were cut off and lost. We eventually found our way to the right spot. I was buried twice, and thrown down several times–buried with the dead and dying. The ground was covered with bodies in all stages of decay and mutilation, and I would, after struggling free from the earth, pick up a body by me to try to lift him out with me, and find him a decayed corpse. I pulled a head off one man and was covered with blood. The horror was indescribable:

cotrpses_Somme_1916

In the dim misty light of dawn I collected about 50 men and sent them off, mad with terror, on the right track for home. Then two brave fellows stayed behind and helped me with the only unburied wounded man we could find. The journey down with him was awful. He was delirious. I tied one of his legs to his pack with one of my puttees. On the way down I found another man and made him stay and help us. It was so terribly slow.

page 153

Well, I’ve had my whack and enough to last a life time. I think one could call it a crowded time. Shells—millions of shells, shells all day and all night, high explosives. I want to put somewhere in here that Goldy fell at Pozières, or rather beyond it. Shrapnel, minenwerfers, whizz-bangs, bombs, tear gas shells, gas shells, sulphur shells-and thousands of gaping dead:


The stench, and the horridness of it can but be mentioned. I have sat on corpses, walked on corpses, and pillaged corpses. I got many interesting German souvenirs and could have secured cartloads from their trenches, but I lost most of what I took, and usually was too busy to pick up anything. I lost nearly all my equipment and clothes and with them my curiosities, but I brought back one bonzer souvenir that I did not expect to bring back—myself.

You always told me I would stick it all right, and I did, but I’d give anything to be out of it for good. All of us would. I saw strong men who had been through Gallipoli sobbing and trembling as with fever–men who had never turned a hair before. The fact that it was all so new to me probably helped me enormously. Goldy fell in the first hour, before I even saw him. I reached the same ground next day.

I worry that if we are not careful, we will finish up celebrating the Great War and our eventual victory over the Germans. This collection of Australian letters will go a long way in preventing anybody from making that ridiculous mistake.

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Filed under France, History, Writing

The Officer Training Corps 1915 Part Two

This photograph shows the High School Officer Training Corps in 1915. I have previously written about what happened to the teachers in the years after this iconic photograph was taken.

This time I want to write about the fates of some of the boys. You might be forgiven for thinking that these twelve individuals are all far too young to have left the school, joined the army, trained as officers, gone to the Western Front and then been killed. But you would be wrong. Three of these young men were to perish. And this, tragically, is a much better casualty rate than the rugby team of Boxing Day, 1913. On the other hand, though, it is still a staggering 25%!

otc 1915

On the back row of the photograph are, left to right, F.A.Bird, J.R.Coleman, D.J.Clarkson, J.Marriott, A.W.Barton, G.R.Ballamy, S.I.Wallis and W.D.Willatt.

On the front row are, left to right, L.W.Foster, V.G.Darrington, Second Lieutenant J.L.Kennard, Captain G.F.Hood, Second Lieutenant L.R.Strangeways, G.James and R.I.Mozley.

I have not been able to find information on all of the boys in this photograph, but here is what I have come up with:

In January 1918, the school magazine, “The Highvite” carried a list of the school prefects, with their nicknames. They included the Captain of the School, F.A.Bird (Dicky) and A.W.Barton (Fuzzy). Both of them feature in the photograph.

They seem to have been very good friends and we have already noted their advertisement “for poisons, the quality of which was endorsed by Mr.Strangeways”. I know nothing further of Mr Bird except that his first name was Francis and he was the best friend of Harold Arno Connop, a Flight Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service, who was killed at Dunkirk on Sunday, March 31st 1918:

connop zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Arthur Willoughby, “Fuzzy”, Barton had an unbelievably varied life. In his last year at the High School, he was Captain of the School and during the First World War, he became a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers Signal Service, until he was demobilised in December 1918.

Arthur then went to Cambridge University to study Physics and helped Lord Rutherford to split the atom. He became a top flight football referee and officiated in the only football match that Adolf Hitler ever watched. I will be telling you his story in another blogpost (Fuzzy Barton, not Adolf Hitler).

Arthur had been, however, the recipient of a gangster type extortion racket in the early part of his school career. The Prefects’ Book records that on Tuesday, October 27th 1908:

“…A meeting was held at 2.30 p.m. in the Library. All the prefects were present. M.M.Lyon was reported for bullying A.W.Barton during the preceding day. He had tried to make Barton accompany him home & as Barton refused, he dragged him along Forest Road towards Waverley St. Lyon also hit Barton with the knob of his umbrella on his head just behind the ear. This blow had raised a big lump on Barton’s head. Lyon only allowed Barton to go home on receiving a promise that he would bring him a penny in the afternoon. As Barton did not bring the money, Lyon thrashed him again in the afternoon.

Lyon admitted the offence, & was treated as a first offender & received 6 strokes.
On the next day, however, Mr Woodward told the school captain that Lyon had treated other boys in a similar way, & had obtained 2d, from J.B.Cooper. Dr.Turpin stated that he had warned Lyon previously, & threatened him with expulsion on a repetition of the offence. Mr Dark had also complained about Lyon’s bullying propensities. H.J.Hoyte reported Lyon at the end of the summer term for swearing, but Lyon had not been punished as he was away from School. Taking all this into consideration, the prefects offered Lyon the alternative of 15 strokes or expulsion by the Doctor. Lyon chose the strokes.”

Richard Inger Mozley was born on May 10th 1898, the son of Albert Henry and Laura Mozley. He entered the High School on January 14th 1908, at the age of nine.

In the School Register his address is given as Grosvenor Avenue, Mapperley Park (1908), and then later, “Hollies”, Burton Joyce, Nottingham. One other website gives the family address as 17a, Woodborough Road, Nottingham. His father, Albert Mozley, was a Coal Merchant.

Richard was a Sergeant in the O.T.C. and, as such, was recommended for a commission in the Army both by Captain Hood and by the Headmaster, Dr G.S.Turpin.  Richard had already applied himself to the O.T.C. of the 3rd Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters, but they were already vastly oversubscribed, and he duly joined the 3rd York & Lancaster Regiment.

Capture gazette mozley aaaaaaa

He was then attached to the 36th Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry):

Capture gazette mozley 2  zzzzzz

During the course of “Operation Michael”, the Germans’ last do-or-die effort to win the war before the Americans began to influence the outcome of the conflict, Richard’s unit was assigned to defend the Forward Zone. Richard himself was stationed in the forward trenches, but he and his colleagues were quickly overwhelmed by the sheer weight of numbers of the enemy. They perished more or less to a man.

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Richard was listed as missing, presumed killed, on March 21st 1918. At the time he was nineteen years of age:

capture mozley cvbnm

By the time he died, he was living in Hoveringham and his parents remained at the “Hollies”, Burton Joyce. In due course, a letter arrived from Sergeant Crenston:

“When Lt. Mozley came back to the Coy. in Dec. last, he took charge of “A” Section and I being the section Sgt. was nearly always with Mr. Mozley and when in the line that terrible morning 21st March Mr. Mozley, myself and about 19 others were in the same position and dugout, the most forward position of the Division, 4 guns with us; at about 4:30 the barrage started. We were being pounded most cruel with gas and high explosive shells but we stuck it till about 9 when your son was hit …… a piece of shell penetrated Mr. Mozley’s right breast …… I helped to bandage your son and asked him to get down to the dressing station a short distance away (it was a nasty wound and it would have got him home) but no, he refused to go, saying I will see it through Sergeant.”
“Now this splendid spirit and example inspired us all and setting our teeth we all determined to stand by to the end …… The first indication we got of the German approach was a death scream from one of the boys and after that my memory is nearly a blank for we all seemed to work by machinery, Mr. Mozley and self took up positions with revolvers and did our best, we were however surrounded by the Germans, a bomb or shell burst amongst us and I found myself with a wound in the back feeling dizzy”.
“Now as to what happened to your son I cannot say”.

Richard has no known grave and is remembered on the Pozières Memorial. This was one of his buttons:

button mozley

John Roberts Coleman was the son of John Bowley Coleman and Florence Annie Coleman of 29, Derby Grove, Lenton Sands, Nottingham. His father was a schoolmaster. John was born on April 16th 1899 and he entered the High School on September 23rd 1909 at the age of ten. He was a Foundation Scholar in both 1911 and 1914. He left in July 1916 and became a Second Lieutenant in the Special Brigade of the Royal Engineers. In the era before antibiotics, he died of pneumonia in Tourcoing, after the end of hostilities, on November 26th 1918. He was only nineteen years of age, and this fresh faced young man had seen so very little of the world beyond mud, blood and death.

coleman zzzzzz
He is buried in Pont-Neuville Communal Cemetery in Tourcoing.

Donald James Clarkson was born on May 11th 1899. He was son of James Clarkson, whose occupation was listed as “a manager”, and his mother was called Alice. The family lived at “Wyndene”, which is now Number 52, Caledon Road, Sherwood. He entered the High School on September 23rd 1909, at the age of ten. He was always known by his many friends as “Pug” because of his upturned nose.

clarkson zzzzzzz

Donald played for the Football 1st XI as a goalkeeper during the last ever term of the sport at the High School. He was a replacement for Roy Henderson, who, by his own admission “..did horribly.., conceding eight goals… for the First Team in an away game at Trent College.” Both of them were in the Fifth Form, Year 11, at the time. In one unrecorded year, Donald was also the High School Fives champion. This is the Fives Court, which was demolished during the 1980s.

best fives

The only other specific mention of him that I have been able to find is in a rather surreal report about a meeting of the Debating Society on Saturday, February 27th 1915, when the school magazine stated that “Mr.Barber was glad Mr.Clarkson had a long arm.” Perhaps you had to be there.

Donald left in December 1915, and then seems to have gone to University College, Nottingham where he immediately joined their Officer Training Corps. After that, he went to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst where, in his passing out examination in early 1918, he was placed first of all the candidates in the college and was awarded the King’s Sword and the King’s Medal.

On April 23rd 1918, Donald became a Second Lieutenant in the 1/6th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters.

Capture commission clarkson

Just four months later, Donald was killed in action on August 9th 1918.  He is buried in Fouquières Churchyard Extension in France.  This cemetery is in the village of Fouquières-les-Béthune, about one kilometre to the south-west of Béthune in the Pas-de-Calais.

clarkson grasveyard

Donald’s death is commemorated on the memorial of University College, Nottingham’s Officer Training Corps as well as the High School’s war memorial.

Like the two other casualties in the photograph of the OTC, he was just nineteen years of age.

I was a teacher in the High School for thirty eight years. Neither there, nor in the rest of my life, do I ever recollect knowing anybody who was called “Clarkson”. On the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, a simple search for any casualty with the surname “Clarkson”, in the Great War, in the Army, yields 226 results.

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Filed under Aviation, Football, France, History, Nottingham, Politics, The High School