Monthly Archives: November 2019

The place where I grew up (2)

Last time, we looked at the pretty little village where I grew up. It was called Woodville and it is in Derbyshire, England.

The school I went to was down Moira Road, one of the five roads that met at the Tollgate. Much more interesting, though, was Donald Ward’s scrapyard, where we would call in hoping that we would be given metal ball bearings to use in our schoolboy games of marbles:

Occasionally the metal ball bearings would be thrown at us, but none of us were too proud to reject any projectiles that came whizzing our way. Legend told of an immensely strong gentleman of Ukrainian heritage, who worked in the scrap yard, and who was so strong that he could lift a length of railway line off a lorry without any outside help. Here’s his brother, as I could not find any pictures of a man carrying a railway line. He’s just bought his lunch at the takeaway:

Inside the scrapyard was a traditional bottle kiln, which is still there to this day, because it is a Listed Building:

My grandfather, Will, spent a great deal of his adult life working in a bottle kiln. It was hard physical work, which required an enormous physical effort. Grandad was immensely strong and, although he was only a small man, he had huge slab like forearms and muscles made powerful from years of lifting heavy objects. He worked in the pipeyards at Wragg’s and then at Knowles’s. Both of these companies were near Swadlincote, and they manufactured underground pipes, mostly for drains and sewers. During the 1920s and 1930s, because of the severe physical strains of his job, Will was a relatively well paid employee, earning at one point some 42/- per week (£2.10):

Will’s job was to carry a tray of soft, “green ware” which would have weighed around a hundredweight, perhaps some fifty or so kilos. He took them from the place where they were made from moist clay, on a large wooden carrying tray, into the bottle kiln, to be fired and hardened. The bottle kiln, in an effort to retain heat and to economise, was slightly recessed into the ground. It had a very small door, so that Will was obliged firstly to slide down a gentle slope, and then to dip down so that he could enter through the tiny, heat conserving, door. Finally, Will had to lift the heavy tray with its cargo of wet clay objects upwards onto the racks inside the kiln.

Here, of course, inside the kiln, it might be immensely hot, and stories were often told of how men, stripped to the waist, would drink a whole bucketful of water to slake their huge thirst. They always wore sacking on their feet. Newcomers who arrived wearing a pair of shoes for their first day on the job would find that their footwear barely lasted until finishing time at the end of the first day. When he finally retired in 1964, my Grandad was replaced by a fork-lift truck.

Continuing down Moira Road, on the right was, firstly, the Junior School, and then St Stephen’s Church and then the Church Hall. We’ll look at them in more detail next time, but for now, here’s a glimpse. When I was a child, of course, the younger generation were so clever that they did not need to spray paint the names of the roads on the asphalt:

 

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (1)

One of the world’s most bewitching aircraft is the Sunderland flying boat. When I was a boy, I never did save up enough pocket money for the Airfix kit, although it was only fifty pence or so in the 1960s. I should have bought it then, though. They’re fifty pounds now!

The Short S.25 Sunderland was a flying boat patrol bomber operated not just by RAF Coastal Command but also by the RAAF, the RCAF, the SAAF, the RNoAF and the Marinha Portuguesa. The last one’s a bit of a give away, but did you get all of the rest? This one’s Australian:

The Sunderland was designed and built by Short Brothers of Belfast, and the cynic inside me says that it was the only decent aircraft of their own that they made during the war. This model of the aircraft was numbered the S.25 because it was a warplane but it was a direct descendant of the S.23 Empire flying boat, the flagship of Imperial Airways. Here it is, a beautiful aircraft:

The new aircraft S25 was very well designed for its purpose. The Sunderland had a wingspan of 112 feet, a length of 85 feet and a height of 32 feet. It was a big aeroplane! Even the stabilising floats on the wings were as big as a rowing boat or a small plane. Compare one of them with the man with a pram, and the Walrus behind them both:

A Sunderland had four Bristol Pegasus XVIII nine-cylinder radial engines which gave it a total of 4,260 horse power:

And those powerful Pegasus engines gave it a range of around 1800 miles at a cruising speed of 178 mph Don’t fly too fast when you’re doing maritime reconnaissance!

The S 25 Sunderland featured a hull even more aerodynamic and more advanced than that of the S23. You can see why it’s called a “Flying Boat”:

Here’s lengthways:

Here’s the nose end of that hull:

Weapons included machine guns in front and rear turrets. The front turret had rather weak 0.303 guns which could not always penetrate thick metal, but at least I got a good shot of it:

I even got a good shot of the three jokers who seemed to be making off with the plane from the Hendon museum, trying to push it backwards through the very large French windows:

Here’s some close-ups for the wanted posters:

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I didn’t get any good photographs of the rear turret but it had heavier 0.50 calibre machine guns. You can just about spot it among the bits of other aircraft. It’s slightly right of centre:

There was also a heavy machine gun firing from each of the beam hatches. You can just about see one poking out here:

The Sunderland made extensive use of bombs, aerial mines, and depth charges. Here are four which have been winched out ready to drop. Hopefully, they are dummies:

Here they are in close up.

The Vickers Wellington’s immensely  powerful Leigh Lights, designed to light up U-boats on the surface at night, were rarely, if ever, fitted to Sunderlands.

Next time, a look inside the mighty Sunderland.

 

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The place where I grew up (1)

I grew up in a small village called Woodville, just to the south of Derby, in more or less the centre of England. Cue The Orange Arrow:

The village had around 4,000 inhabitants who worked for the most part in the local industry, which was digging up the local clay and using it to make water pipes, sewage pipes and the like.

Originally, the village was called Wooden Box, because five roads met in the centre, and the man who collected the tolls from the travellers on those five roads lived in a large wooden box the size of a small house. The place where he stopped the traffic therefore became known as the Tollgate. Nowadays, it is a roundabout.

Here is the High Street shortly after the end of World War Two:

It was quite grim when the snows of 1947 began to get a little grimy:

Over a series of blog posts, I would like to show you what Woodville was like when I was a little boy in the late fifties and early sixties, and what all those places are like now.

In the 1950s, the shops of Woodville were vastly different from what they are nowadays. At the top of Hartshorne Road, where I lived, was the Co-op butcher’s, with its decorated ceramic tiles, where meat was displayed on a big white slab behind a huge plate glass window. Here are some of the ceramic tiles:

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Inside was the counter with a wooden chopping block at the side. The butcher wore a striped blue and white apron, soiled with smears of old blood. He was, like all butchers, a Smart Alec, who fancied his chances with the women and was always over familiar with them.

Here’s the butcher’s shop today. It’s derelict:

Higher up, on the corner of the roundabout was a large shop called the Co-op. In the picture below, it’s on the right:

Margaret who worked in the Co-op was my mother’s particular friend. Here’s the shop today. It’s derelict too:

On the opposite side of the road was what had been the old Police Station. Here it is, in the centre of  a very old postcard:

The County Library was to move into the derelict police station around 1960. The story was told locally that four special garages were constructed to house the mobile library vehicles, but that the people in charge forgot to measure the huge vans’ lengths, so that they eventually stuck out of their garage by some  three or four feet and it was impossible to close the doors of the new buildings.

Around this time, the same location also housed the local Civil Defence, who had a large and enormously loud siren next to the building’s chimney. It was a frightening machine which could be sounded should “Our Friends the Soviets” ever launch a nuclear attack on Woodville. In the early 1960s, I well remember the threatening and haunting sound of this siren curling around the walls of the houses on, thank goodness, just one occasion per month, possibly the first Sunday, when testing was allowed to occur if my memory serves me well. Here’s the police station pretending to be a library:

Over the road from the Police Station was a ramshackle, black, wooden garage where cars were repaired and petrol was sold, BP, if I remember correctly. Further along this road towards Burton on Trent, on the left hand side stood a garage which sold Cleveland Driscoll petrol, and which was unstinting in the way in which it gave away primarily purple coloured advertising lapel badges to small boys.

Here’s the garage today. It’s derelict, with weeds growing in front of it:

The roundabout was called the Toll Gate, and it had a third garage, which sold, again if I am not mistaken, Regent petrol. It was called the Clock Garage and here it is today, repainted and restored:

Next time we’ll look at my old school and the house where my Dad was born.

 

 

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Hedgecoe and Bamford : the Final Chapter

Last year, on February 7th, I published a post called “Hedgecoe and Bamford : Death in the Night”.

The post was about two young heroes of 151 Squadron who were flying a Mosquito night fighter of No. 85 Squadron over Kent, during the night of March 24th-25th 1944. The pilot was Flying Officer Edward Richard Hedgecoe (34) and the radar operator was Flight Lieutenant Norman Llewellyn Bamford (25). They were both experienced marksmen, with Hedgecoe having claimed eight victims and Bamford taking part in the destruction of ten enemy machines:

I described the rather quirky events of that night when they found an apparent Junkers Ju 188,

The rather infrequently encountered German aircraft was weaving violently from side to side. They approached to within a hundred yards and then let it have a burst of cannon fire. What happened next is in my blog post from February 7th 2018.

The rest of my blog post then concerned the eventual deaths of Messrs Hedgecoe and Bamford, the final fate of whom I could merely make a best guess at. They perished on January 1st 1945 but I quite simply did not know the circumstances.

I was delighted, therefore, some nineteen months later, to receive a comment about the eventual fate of the two men. The comment came from Denis Sharp.

Denis provided a very long and detailed account of the two airmen, so good in fact that I thought it ought to be better showcased than the ordinary run-of-the-mill comment.

Please be aware therefore, that these are not my words but a recent reply to an old blog post of mine from Denis Sharp:

“The loss of this aircraft from former RAF Hunsdon is well known to myself, as an historian for the airfield I can give you this small additional piece of the story.
In its heyday it was a Mosquito night fighter station, many famous squadrons were based here from 1941 to 1945, and one of the RAF’s most famous low level attacks took place from this deserted abandoned airfield. This was the low level attack on the German run prison at Amiens in France in February 1944, one of the most charismatic airmen of that period, Group Captain P.E Pickard lost his life along with his navigator Flt Lt Alan Broadley on that raid, also lost was Flt Lt Dick Sampson, the navigator from a second aircraft that was also bought down.

Let’s go back over seventy years to the 31st of December 1944, two replacement Mosquito aircrew reported for duty with 151 Squadron at this airfield. Squadron Leader Edward Hedgecoe DFC and Bar, and his Navigator Flying Officer Norman Llewellyn Bamford DFC and Bar. Both were both posted in from the Fighter Interception Unit where they had been resting from operational combat sorties. At the FIU they had helped train inexperienced night fighter aircrew as well as developing tactics and equipment. They were sent to join 151 Squadron at Hunsdon as replacements, both were both very experienced airmen who had each earned the DFC and Bar in combat prior to joining the FIU from 85 Squadron some months earlier.

On New Year’s Day, Monday the 1st January 1945, Squadron Leader Hedgecoe and Flying Officer Bamford found themselves on the duty roster for operations that night, a mere two days after arriving at Hunsdon. 151 Squadron were a Mosquito night fighter squadron and regularly flew patrols over German held territory on the continent in an effort to shoot down German night bombers and Luftwaffe night fighters that were taking a toll of RAF heavy bombers.

Sometime in the early afternoon on the 1st January 1945, the pair climbed into their Mosquito, a Mk30 NF bearing the serial number NT253, to carry out a routine air test prior to further rest before flying later that night. The test was to establish if all the aircraft’s systems were working correctly, after the flight the acceptance form ‘700’ would be signed by the pilot and the aircraft would be then fit for operations, the fuel tanks would be topped off and all would be ready for the pair to use when their allotted time for flight arrived later that night.

The weather that day was not that good but flying had been cleared and aircraft had been allotted to cover various Night fighter and Intruder operations to Luftwaffe airfields on the Continent. The wind was from the south west and Hedgecoe and Bamford set off on the secondary runway for their twenty minute test flight that involved a circuit or two of the airfield before making their approach to the northern end of the same runway. While on this approach and at a height of about 300ft, the Mosquito stalled a wing, a known trait of the aircraft at low airspeed, and spun into the ground just 450 yards short of the concrete runway. Being fully loaded with fuel and made of wood, the Mosquito burned fiercely. Both Squadron Leader Hedgecoe and Flying Officer Bamford died in the wreckage.”

So now, thanks to Denis Sharp, we know the last, sad, part of the story.

If you want to hear more from Denis, here is the link to his website .

Here’s a Mosquito crash  site today:

 

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