Monthly Archives: April 2020

Bomber Harris, not a happy man (1)

I hope that I don’t produce book reviews too frequently, and I certainly always limit myself to books that I have read and that I know I have enjoyed. In such a category is the 288 page book, “The Relentless Offensive”, War and Bomber Command 1939-1945″. The book is priced at £21 for a new hardback but there are plenty of reduced price copies as low as £4 or £5 including delivery. Here’s the cover:

Amazon, the seller of the cheaper used examples, says that the book is ” a fresh analysis of Bomber Command, its tactics and technology.” This is correct but there is more to the book than that, with, for example, in-depth discussions of high-explosive bombs and explanations as to why apparently identical bombs differed so much in effectiveness. The defensive armament used by Bomber Command aircraft is examined and explanations offered to explain its ineffectiveness:

Perhaps most important of all, why was Bomber Command’s navigation so frequently so very, very poor? Failures in this area would eventually lead to the conclusions of the Butt Report, which stated on August 8th 1941, after two years of war,  that:

“only about one-third of aircraft claiming to reach their target actually reached it.”

Here is the Butt Report, looking a little dog-eared today :

Of that successful third who flew through the night, and reached the target, when it came to dropping bombs, ”only one in three of them got within five miles”. In other words, a mere one ninth, 11%, of the aircraft claiming to have flown over the target, did, in actual fact, get anywhere near to dropping their bombs accurately on said target. On occasion the wrong town or city was bombed. At least one Old Nottinghamian did this. They returned triumphantly from their raid only to find out that they had not bombed Genoa but a seaport some thirty five miles away called Savona. Sometimes, the German town received virtually no bombs at all and the inhabitants did not realise that they were the target of an RAF raid.

In similar fashion, the RAF appeared on occasion to be targeting what the Germans on the ground thought was a bizarre target, such as a cheese factory or an ice cream works. Still, at least the RAF did not bomb Switzerland quite as frequently as the Americans did (“Gee, the target was lit up like a Christmas tree”) or as the Germans bombed the Irish Republic (Dublin on several occasions. and also Blackrock Island off the coast of County Mayo, damaging the several lantern panes and the roof of the lighthouse.) Here’s the lighthouse, a difficult building to find and to identify, especially in broad daylight:

Clearly, the problems of reaching a target at night and bombing that target when you couldn’t necessarily see it, had not been solved during the first two years of the war:

To make things even worse, Butt did not include at any point in his examination “those aircraft that did not bomb because of equipment failure, enemy action, weather or which failed to find the target”.

When, in 2003, modern researcher Hank Nelson carried out Butt’s calculations, taking into account this final category of the aircraft who did not drop their bombs for a variety of reasons, he discovered that only about 5%, one twentieth, of RAF bombers setting out from their bases in England bombed within five miles of the target. Other modern research, presumably nowadays making some use of German sources, has since then revealed that “49% of Bomber Command bombs dropped between May 1940 and May 1941 fell in open country”.

The places being bombed heavily, therefore, must have included all of the countryside behind this strategically important railway viaduct:

Such inaccuracy is one of the main areas examined by Roy Irons in his marvellously interesting book. Some of the reasons that 95% of Bomber Command aircraft might as well have stayed safe at home we will look at next time.

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What’s the School Play this year? (1)

A high proportion of secondary schools in England put on an annual school play, and the High School, even back in the 1920s, was no exception. In the distant past, I have paraphrased the main problem faced by those who sought to put on a School Play, years before things changed for ever in the 1970s:

“The Dramatic Society would put on an annual play, usually, a classic, although not always by Shakespeare. The problem was that Nottingham High School was for boys only, and, in the words of the School Magazine: “The Dramatic Society has always hesitated to produce a modern play because of the difficulty of satisfactorily filling the female parts. Twentieth Century dress does not lend itself so well to the purpose of transformation as do Elizabethan and Georgian costumes”.

I also pointed out that even with the classics, the problems may only just be beginning. This photograph by the Reverend Stephens is from a post-war School Play, and shows one of the leading characters. The Reverend captioned it “Williams”, and, poor lad, Williams could almost stand there and represent fifty years’ worth of completely insoluble difficulties with School Plays. No matter how well he learns his lines, young Williams cannot change the size of his hands or the size of his feet or the firmness of his jaw-line:

Similar problems occurred in the same era with “The Rivals”. This was in 1953. Here is Miss Lydia Languish. Better hands, admittedly, (except for the knuckles) but that’s not a woman’s nose :

Here is Miss Julia Melville, perhaps the best so far:

And here is the famous Mrs Malaprop. Did you spot my malapropism in the previous post about Junior Plays?

What you can’t miss is that great wide barrel chest, ever ready to control a hard driven football. And look at that chin and that nose.  Those hands and those knuckles.

Things were no different by 1962 when Gogol’s “Government Inspector” came to call. Messrs Boyden and Taylor, try as they might, were still two strapping great lads, whether Russian Woman 1 was standing and Russian Woman 2 was sitting down :

Or whether Russian Woman 2 was standing and Russian Woman 1 was sitting down:

And just why does he/she have a table tennis bat? Both pictures, incidentally, come from the Reverend Stephens.

Just as a taster for next time, let’s think about some of the other problems faced by the School’s Dramatic Society. As we have seen, there were no girls from Nottingham Girls’ High School to play the female parts but, on occasion,  even the props and costumes could be rather unimpressive.

This is a very poor reproduction, by myself, of the School’s 1924 production of Aristophanes’ side splitter, “The Frogs”. I would contend that they should have called it “The Beards”. Or it could have been read out merely as “Black Beards 6 White Beards 2″. And while you’re trying to find all eight, don’t miss the two boys who are having to hold their badly behaved beards in place with their hands:

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Filed under Film & TV, History, Humour, Literature, Nottingham, The High School, Writing

Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (4)

We have been looking at the poetry of Anthony Richardson. His second book of poetry was “These – Our Children”, published in 1943. I think it’s his best work and I have found quite a few poems in it to show you:

The copy I bought, again for just a few pounds, had an inscription inside it. It reads, in a very shaky old man’s handwriting, rather like my own: “For Jean Eve from Charlie on the 30th anniversary of our Wedding. Jan. 20 1944”:

The first poem I selected is called “Aerodrome Landscape” and is exactly that…a portrayal of the empty flat landscape of a bomber base. Only a few words of vocabulary need explaining:

An armadillo I had never heard of, but Wikipedia says that it is

“an extemporised armoured fighting vehicle produced in Britain during the invasion crisis of 1940-1941. Based on a number of standard lorry (truck) chassis, it comprised a wooden fighting compartment protected by a layer of gravel and a driver’s cab protected by mild steel plates. Armadillos were used by the RAF Regiment to protect aerodromes and by the Home Guard.”

A primrose is a yellow flower that often appears in late winter.

As regards any technical terms, the perimeter-roadway is the concrete track that runs 360° around every airbase. Each bomber was left, when not in use, on its own “dispersal” point, often shaped like a frying pan, which was connected to the “peri-track” by a short concrete road. Bofors guns were used to defend airfields against German aircraft attacks. A Hudson is a two engined light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. Wrack is seaweed that is placed on the shore by the waves, so presumably, “sky-wrack” is clouds, driven across the sky by the wind.

The same book, “These – Our Children”, contains “Aftermath”, which could equally well have been titled “Epitaph”.

The full title of the poem is “AFTERMATH (For Mac and his crew)”. It makes reference to a dead aircrew who are buried in Kristiansand, at least one of them being Scottish, or at the very least, having the Scottish name of “Mac Something”.

In today’s day and age, it is easy to trace to whom these details refer. Kristiansand is on the Skagerrak and is the fifth largest city in Norway. It lies, more or less, at the country’s southernmost tip. The Kristiansand Civil Cemetery has only twelve war casualties, just one of them being possibly “Mac”. This was Charles Peter Hope Maclaren, aged only twenty and killed on April 21st 1941. He was the pilot of an aircraft of 107 Squadron and came from Peebles, which is in the Scottish Borders region in southern Scotland. On the base of his grave is inscribed “His brave companions Sergeants Hannah and King have no known grave”:

The three men were in a Blenheim IV, Z5795, of 107 Squadron, RAF, of Leuchars in Fifeshire, operating as part of 18 Group. They took off at 1800 to perform a reconnaissance of the Norwegian coast. The Blenheim was piloted by Pilot Officer Maclaren, but they were shot down by enemy fighters and crashed into the sea. The pilot’s body was later washed ashore at Flekkero near Kristiansand, but no trace of his two comrades was ever found and their sacrifice is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. 107 Squadron was normally part of Bomber Command but was on detachment to Coastal Command in early 1941.

Sergeant Anthony James Hannah was the observer. He was a New Zealander of only twenty and he was on his twelfth operation. The third member of the crew was Douglas Stevenson Hutcheon King, whose service number was 751304 but I could find nothing further about him, I’m afraid.

In the poem, Richardson introduces huge amounts of poetic licence. He talks as if Maclaren came from Dundee rather than Peebles. The Usk is a river, but strangely, in Wales. Fifeshire is a county near Dundee:

The question posed at the end, of course, is that if the dead men can still call to him “across two hundred miles of sea”. then how is it that they cannot “clasp our hands” across the thin veil between life and death?
I have spent the last six years researching the war casualties of the Old Nottinghamians, and a good many more, and this particular Blenheim is quite the most God-forsaken, long forgotten, aircraft, I have ever come across. Only one grave and two men lost for ever. No exact details of their mission, no exact details of who shot them down or how it happened. Nothing at all on the CWGC website about the two men who were never found. No ages. No parental details. No town of origin mentioned. The only detail I found out is that Mac was buried by some good Germans, who gave him a magnificent funeral with full military honours:

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What would you do ? (5) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

And the correct solution given on page 2 of the comic is:

“There was only one possible thing the trapper could do. He shot one of the attacking wolves. The rest of the pack, ravenous with hunger, turned on the fallen beast. This gave the man time to make a dash for the safety of his cabin.”

The trouble is that I just don’t think that that would work. We know a lot more about wolves nowadays than we did in 1963. Wolves are known to be extremely loyal to one another and I cannot imagine that their first reaction to one of their number being shot would be to eat him, no matter how hungry they were. I know that a wolf will fight and kill a rival from another pack, but he would never eat him, even if he himself was starving. In that case, why would he devour a colleague from his own pack?

And they’re all so sweet and cuddly. Here’s Mummy Wolf:

And here’s Baby Wolf:

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What would you do ? (5) The Puzzle

My 500th blog post……….enjoy !!!

“What would you do ?” used to appear on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for its front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

I hate snow. It always makes its way into your clothes and then melts. That, though, is the least of Trapper Jacques’s problems. He has been cut off by the wolves, at least six of them, and he only has a single bullet left. They are hunger crazed after the fish-and-chip van broke down and they stand firmly between Jacques and his lovely little cabin with his new Liberty curtains. If Jacques tries to run they will chase him and bite him and then tear him to pieces. The same fate will eventually befall him if he tries climbing that tree in the background.

What can  he do??

 

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (4)

Let’s have a look at one of the old Cornish stories, and see what kind of things the human sized  fairies used to get up to. As soon as I had read a few of these stories, I was immediately struck by how they seemed to echo aspects of modern life. The people who disappear in the USA’s National Parks. The activities of those nasty aliens. And bear in mind that this is one of the first stories in Volume I, so I would think it was put there as a gentle introduction. Not that the fairies are at all gentle.

In this traditional droll-teller’s story, therefore, “Uter” is a commercial traveller who is led astray by the fairies, as he tries to go back to his hotel after visiting a big country festival in Penzance. Here is its modern equivalent:

“When Uter got into the field, a cloud of fog was rising from the moors, entirely surrounding him and so thick that he could scarcely see a yard before him. Yet, although he couldn’t see anything, he could hear distant singing plainer than ever. He steered his course for the eastern side of the field, as near as he could guess toward the place with an opening in the hedgerow where he intended to pass into the next field. He soon came to the fence, but he found no opening. He searched back and forth. He wandered round and round, without success. And then he tried to get over what appeared to be a low place in the hedge; but the more he climbed, the higher the hedge seem to rise above him.”

“He tried ever so many places, but could never quite reach the top of the fence, and every time he gave up, his ears rang with such mocking laughter as nothing but a Fairy ever made. He was very anxious to reach the hotel, and above all to get out of this field, as it had a bad reputation, and was shunned by most people after nightfall. The ugliest of sprites and fairies, with other stranger apparitions, such as unearthly lights, were often seen firstly hovering around the old Chapel which stood in this field, and then departing in all directions. These ruins were so overgrown with brambles and thorns that there was but little of the building to be seen.”

“Uter had turned round and round so often that he neither knew what course he was steering nor in which part of the field he stood, until he found himself among the thickets surrounding the ruins. Even here he heard the same teasing, tormenting laughter proceeding from inside the chapel. Then he took it into his head that someone in flesh and blood was following him about in the mist. He soon lost his temper and threatened to let whoever, or whatever, was dogging his footsteps, feel the weight of his boot as soon as he could lay hands on him.

He had no sooner hit the Fairy then than the cudgel was snatched from his hand, his heels tripped up, and he was laid flat on his back; then he was sent rolling down the hill faster and faster, until he went down like a stone bowled over a cliff, tossed over the hedge at the bottom of the field like a bundle of rags, then pushed through the brambles on the moor, or pitched over the bogs and stream on the Fairy’s horns. Then he was whirled away like dust before the wind. When he fell down, he was pitched up again, and not allowed a moment’s rest from rolling or running until he passed the high road and was driven on by the Fairy, smashing against a high rock at the foot of the hill, where he was found quite insensible the next day.”

Whoever or whatever was responsible for those events, it certainly doesn’t sound like it was Tinkerbell!

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