Monthly Archives: October 2018

They were only playing leapfrog…..

This story comes from a source which I have used quite frequently, namely “The Date Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood”. On this occasion, the year is 1794 and the French revolutionary government has recently abolished slavery on February 4th of that year. Only a week later, on February 11th, the sessions of the United States Senate are made open so the public can come along and watch.

Today, though, is February 23rd and the slack jawed young locals in the Hockley area of Georgian Nottingham have all assembled in Broad Street. They are going to have a damned good game of leapfrog while they wait for somebody to invent football. On this modern map, LRTS marks the tram system. Look for the orange arrow:

I presume that leapfrog  is a universal game across the world. This is Harlem during the Jazz Age:

And here’s one of those old Victorian stop motion films:

You wouldn’t want to play  leapfrog in the middle of Broad Street nowadays, but in 1794 it was not a problem. So what happened? Well…….

“A number of young men, in a playful mood, were diverting themselves in a game of leapfrog in Broad-street, when one of them disappeared underground in a remarkable manner. He had leaped over the back of a comrade, in the customary way, and happened to alight on the spot where there was a well,  120 feet deep.”

It wasn’t as big as this…

But it was still quite big and it soon attracted a crowd:

Anyway, back to 1794…

“The aperture had simply been covered with boards and a little earth, and was uniform in appearance with the surrounding ground . Fortunately, the man was extricated perfectly unhurt, and with an oath declared himself equal to any pantomime performer on the stage, inasmuch as he dare leap without being caught in a blanket! The well was immediately arched over.”

Nowadays, Broad Street is a busy but basically, fairly ordinary thoroughfare, except some bored fool with nothing better to do has painted ” Broad St” on the floor in big white letters :

The other end of the street has a famous pub:

This pub is nowadays the only real attraction in the street. Things might change though, if “arching over” an old well doesn’t solve the problem for very much more than 200 years. Then we might see some more excitement.

Here’s a better view of the pub:

Once you’ve had a refreshing pint of ale in the Lord Roberts pub, above, you might even feel like a game of leapfrog yourself. Here’s the army’s version of the game in that magnificent anti-war film about World War One, “Oh What a Lovely War”. The song is entitled “They were only playing leapfrog”:

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Filed under France, History, Nottingham

Card Carrying Commies (4)

Last time, we were looking at the Communist Party membership cards carried by just a deluded few  of those maniacal Commies who did nothing with their lives except plot and scheme how to overcome NATO. They all carried a little booklet:

The next page we get to is all about cash. The top sets of words are Ukrainian with at least one letter “ i ” and the second one is Russian. The top box is “Payment-(of) membership-dues”. The year is 1975:

The first of the four vertical columns is the month which in Russian is “M-YE-S-YA-TS”, which is like the Latin word “mensis” and means ‘month’. Russian is a very ancient language and tends to have words related to Latin rather more frequently than many modern European languages, except for universal words such as ‘tennis’, or ‘football’ or ‘tank’.
Going down the column you might be able to work out the names of the months. They are YA-N-V-A-R (don’t bother about the little letter ‘b’. It’s an accent) F-YE-V-R-A-L , M-A-R-T, A-P-R-YE-L, M-AYE (the letter ‘й’ ias again an accent, a bit like a letter ‘Y’ in English). Then it’s “EE-YU-N” and “EE-YU-L”. After that it’s A-V-G-OO-S-T, S-YE-N-T-YA-B-R, O-K-T-YA-B-R, N-O-YA-B-R and D-YE-K-A-B-R.
The next three columns are quite interesting. The second one is headed “Monthly earnings”, so she made 271 roubles in January, 267 roubles in February and so on.

As for how much that was worth, it’s very difficult to say. I visited the USSR in 1969 and paid 3p for a newspaper or 5p for a packet of 20 cigarettes. The Moscow underground was inexpensive with go-anywhere tickets at 3p. So many Muscovites used the underground that the Soviet Mint made a special three kopeck coin  to quicken things up at the ticket machines. Travel on the trams or buses was equally low-priced. Overall, most ordinary everyday things were extremely cheap, although many Western-type things were virtually unobtainable so they were very expensive.

I think Aleesa could have led a simple and relatively comfortable life on this amount of money. True, she would have lacked a lot of consumer goods but at the same time, she would not have had the average personal debt we supposedly have here in England of £14,000 per person, excluding house mortgages. Her streets were largely crime and graffiti free, she had decent accommodation that she could afford to heat, she had a job, her education was completely free and when she grew old, she received a pension. She had access to a very large number of simple leisure activities, such as sport, dance and libraries, theatre and opera and all of it was very low priced. A large number of people in contemporary Russia would return to the old days if they could, especially the old people.
Her party membership fees are listed in Column Three.

They seem to vary but are very roughly 3% of her total salary. I have not been able to find out exactly what were the particular benefits of Party membership. Presumably, a lot of ordinary people just wanted to be Communists and to defend the massive gains they had made under that system. A search of the Internet in general reveals that the Party granted people a greater chance of reaching a higher level in whichever field they were working in, from the Army to professorships in Zoology. If that’s the case though, then the Party’s doors were open a lot wider than the Bohemian Club, the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University, the Pitt Club at Cambridge University or the Skull and Bones at Yale University. And there must be lots of other clubs so secret that we don’t even know about them. This is the badge of the Ukrainian Communist Party:

Whatever Aleesa got out of Party Membership, she was happy to pay the fees. The third column is the signature of the Secretary of the local party. It’s written “S-YE-K-R-YE-T-A-R-YA”.

Vladimir doesn’t seem to have received as much per month if you look at the second column. He earned 73 roubles in January 1977, for example.

Perhaps he worked part time or perhaps he was disabled or a war veteran and received a sum every month. It’s impossible to know now. His contributions are just tiny…some 37 kopecks per month. And all of it signed for by the party secretary, although, if you look very carefully, it has already been stamped. What is on the stamp is very difficult to read, but it certainly has the word “Zolochevskiy” which I take to be the area concerned. It is the first word and begins with ‘Z-O-Lambda-O”.

What happened next, next time. In the meantime, “Workers, keep uniting!”.

 

 

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Filed under History, Humour, Politics, Russia

the Reverend Charles Stephens (3)

Last time I showed you some more of the photographs left to us by the Reverend Charles Stephens, a keen photographer who captured many aspects of the High School, both boys, buildings and activities. Some of the most striking ones were taken in early 1960 when the new block on the northern side of the West Quadrangle was opened.

We have already looked at the bottom floor and the top corridor with their absolutely amazing block parquet flooring, which was not just shiny but even reflective. That incredible quality of being polished so highly as to be reflective seems to have been really widespread in the school at the time. Perhaps whichever company polished the floors of the new block was given free rein with some of the other rooms. Here are the floorboards of one of the Chemistry laboratories:

Here is the Music Rehearsal Room. Notice how all of the boys are wearing white plimsolls, which they have presumably had to bring from home, along with their trombones:

The Old Gym was pretty much the same as the new West Block rooms. Just look at those boys at the top of those ropes! If I’d been able to do that, I reckon my application for the French Foreign Legion would have gone a lot better than it did:

The Reverend Stephens didn’t just do buildings though. He did groups of boys such as his Tutor Set, seen here in 1953-1954:

How clever! He got them all to autograph the back of the photo:

 

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Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

Fred joins the RAF (2)

By 1941, inspired no doubt in part by the exploits of “The Few” in the previous year’s Battle of Britain, Fred had made up his mind to join the RAF. To do this, he had to walk to the recruiting office in Derby, a journey he had made so many times before with his father to see Derby County play football at the Baseball Ground:

It was a lot less built up and a lot quieter in 1941 than it is now:

Fred duly arrived at a two storey building in the middle of  Derby, where all three of the services were busily enrolling volunteers.

As he walked in, Fred was immediately offered a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters, but he refused this generous opportunity and continued on up the stairs to the RAF. Here, he was asked to spell two words correctly, and he had passed their entrance examination. The words were “horizon” and “bicycle”. Fred was now a proud member of the RAF, an organisation which most of the population believed were “the cream of the nation”. He would wear this for the best part of five years:

When Fred returned home, he told his parents what he had done. His father congratulated him on his bravery, but his frightened mother slapped his face, and said “You wicked boy!”

Not everybody saw it in such a negative way. In October 1941, Fred was still working in Swadlincote at the office of Bert Orgill, a local business man, when Colonel Guy German from nearby Ashby-de-la-Zouch called round, and asked about him, perhaps even seeing Fred as a likely recruit for his own regiment.

Mr Orgill said that Fred had recently volunteered for the RAF, and Colonel German generously gave him a five pound note for having done so. Eventually, Fred would look like this:

At this time, as was briefly mentioned above, the RAF was considered to be the élite force of the three, a fact which was strongly emphasized in the personal letter sent to every man who joined the RAF by Archibald Sinclair, the Secretary of State for War. He said that

“The RAF demands a high standard of physical fitness and alertness, and I congratulate you on passing the stringent tests”.

They were also told they had a “great task to perform” and that

“The honour of the RAF is in your hands. Our country’s safety and the final overthrow of the powers of evil now arrayed against us depend on you and your comrades.”

They were encouraged to “keep fit, work hard, live temperately”. Well, two out of three isn’t bad.

Perhaps as a direct result of this generous praise, there were so many volunteers for the RAF that young men were often sent away for up to a year or more, until a place on a suitable training course became available. This may possibly have been what happened to Fred, although, at this late stage, we have absolutely no way of ever knowing the truth, as his RAF records are far from exhaustive, shall we say!

Nobody of Fred’s social class had ever done any flying. Few had ever been inside an aircraft. Hardly any could even drive a car. To have volunteered for the RAF, and to have been accepted, no matter how low he said their standards of spelling may have been, must have suffused him with immense pride. In this, of course, he was not alone. Thousands of young men across the entire nation had read books and magazines about aviation throughout the 1930s and now, as they reached their early twenties, they were only too willing to join the youngest service:

We do know that when Fred volunteered, he was within just a couple of months of his nineteenth birthday. At the age of eighteen, he still had the right to choose which service he entered. Had he waited those last two months, until he was nineteen years old, the government would then have had the right to conscript him, and he would have lost the right to decide in which arm of the services he was to serve.

It is, however, actually possible to disprove one apparently neat theory, namely that Fred, as a keen cinema goer, might well have been inspired to join the RAF by seeing a famous documentary film, which he would talk about ceaselessly in later years. It was entitled “Target for Tonight”.

“Target for Tonight” was a Crown Film Unit propaganda film, using real RAF personnel throughout and chronicling a night raid on Germany by the Vickers Wellingtons of 149 Squadron of Bomber Command, with, coincidentally, “F for Freddie” as the main aircraft. It is a nice idea that Fred was inspired to join the RAF by seeing this film but it cannot be true, as the film was not released until at least October 1941, almost a full month after Fred volunteered.  He still spent the rest of his life as an enormous fan of  Charles Pickard, the hero of the film:

One thing that Fred was always to joke about, however, was the immediate impact that his joining the Allied Forces was to have on the conflict. Montgomery’s victory over Rommel at El Alamein followed his enlistment reasonably quickly, and not long afterwards, the Soviets were to win the Battle of Stalingrad.

You can watch “Target for Tonight” here:

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Derby County, History, Personal

Card Carrying Commies (3)

Last time, we were looking at the Communist Party membership cards carried by all of those Commies we have spent so much of our tax revenues trying to oppose. They all carried a little booklet:

The pretty young thing in the first booklet was called Aleesa. Here’s the second booklet we are going to look at. This is the top half of the identification page:

The surname of this gentleman is  “Artim”.  Look at the printed word “familiya”, with the Greek ‘Phi’. It means ‘surname’. His actual surname is handwritten which is a different alphabet and is best left for now. On the second line, his personal name is Vladimir with eight handwritten letters. It begins with a non-Greek letter which equals our “V” but then there is Lambda-Alpha as Letters No 2 and 3, and the word also ends with Rho as Letter  No 8.  The next line gives his patronymic, based on his father’s name. The first five letters show that Dear Old Comrade Dad was Vasili. Vladimir was born in 1933 on Line 4 and joined the Party in (March) 1967 on Line 5. He too comes from Lvov in the Ukraine.

Here’s his details in the Ukrainian version. Given that his Party number is 14,773,494 and Aleesa’s was 11,286,415, that means the Party acquired 3,487,079 new people in three years. I don’t know about the Democrats and the Republicans but it’s certainly a lot better recruitment than the Conservatives or Labour have ever managed in England:

As you can see, Ukrainian is only a little bit different although it is definitely a separate language rather than just a dialect of Russian. It’s perhaps like the difference between, say, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, or maybe, Portuguese and Spanish.

Here is the bottom half of the page:

The bit above the photo refers to the issuing authority which is near Lvov in the Ukraine (now Lviv). His party membership book was issued on April 26th 1974 (bottom line).

I like Vladimir. He looks exactly the sort of bloke to have with you if you were a landlord and one of your tenants  was a day late with the rent. When I went to the Soviet Union in 1969 on a school trip,  we used to go out on our own in the evenings. Quite frequently we would be followed by KGB men who were not at all subtle about what they were doing.  Just imagine Vladimir in an over sized 1950s double breasted pale grey pin stripe suit and that’s them! Apparently, the KGB wanted to make sure most of all that we were not visiting churches to make contact with the Christian underground. We weren’t.  Here’s one of their student-agents of the time:

 

 

 

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Filed under History, Humour, Politics, Russia

Fred joins the RAF (1)

When war broke out in September 1939, Fred took advice from his father, Will, about which of the three services to join. Will, of course, had been a veteran of the First World War, and was well aware that, until conscription was introduced, there was a free choice of where to spend the conflict, with, hopefully, a maximised chance of survival.

Will told Fred not to join the Army, as he himself had fought on the Western Front, and had seen the horrors of Passchendaele, followed by a period on active service in the area of the Somme battlefields:

Will knew all too well that for the army commanders, the men remained just cannon fodder, whose eventual fate was of little importance to them, as they ate and drank in palatial comfort, miles behind the Front Line. The ordinary soldiers were just a list of names on a war memorial :

Will could not recommend the Navy either, because, if your ship were sunk, it would take you far too long to die, floating around in the water, with little real prospect of rescue. Don’t miss the shark :

Instead, along with thousands of other First World War veterans, he recommended to his son that Fred join the RAF. Will had seen the aircraft of the then Royal Flying Corps, flying high over the trenches. He knew that when they died, it was usually by burning, a relatively quick, and clean, way to go:

The supreme irony, of course, was that Fred was eventually to find himself in the ranks of Bomber Command. Throughout the entire war, their casualty rates were destined always to bear direct comparison with those of the British Army on the Western Front during the First World War, and even with the appalling rates of carnage of specific battles such as Ypres or the Somme.

Fred knew that his mother was extremely worried about her only son when he was away in the RAF. Like many thousands of his colleagues in Bomber Command, therefore, he told her that he had a totally safe job, working from nine till five in the quartermaster’s stores, doling out uniforms to new recruits. Fred’s father, however, who had experience of the sharp end of war, was fully aware that Fred was in aircrew, and of the risks that that involved:

Fred had very dismissive and, at the same time, modest, memories of what rank he had held in the RAF. He always insisted that he had been an AC2, an “Aircraftman Second Class”, but that he had once been promoted to the lofty heights of Lance Corporal, so that he would have the authority to guard a pile of boxes.

Fred’s parents had a photograph of their beloved only son, taken by Wilkes of Elgin:

They kept the photograph on the piano throughout the conflict, and indeed, long afterwards, as, perhaps, some kind of thanksgiving for his safe return. Fred’s mother and father had tried so hard to have a baby, with things going wrong with a number of pregnancies before Fred was born. And he was an only child.

Almost seventy years later, Fred’s granddaughter was to make a public appeal for information about her grandfather’s time in the RAF, and for just a few hours, this particular photograph was to be the main attraction on the RAF’s Facebook page:

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal