Monthly Archives: October 2020

Books for Christmas (1)

I thought it might be helpful if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured here are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying the books second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with certain very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price. Again, you need to shop around.

First up to the plate, is “The Bayeux Tapestry: Story of the Norman Conquest, 1066” by Norman Denny and Josephine Filmer-Sankey. This book came out for the 900th anniversary in 1966 and was meant primarily for schools. It contains every single square inch of the tapestry in full colour. Many modern books leave out what they consider to be the boring bits, or reproduce them in black and white:

Next is “Conscientious Objectors of the First World War: A Determined Resistance” by Ann Kramer. Conscientious objectors, or “Conchies”, usually refuse to fight in their country’s wars because of religious reasons. This book completely changed my mind about them. I always thought that conchies were, deep down, just cowards, no different from the people who find spurious medical problems to avoid risking their lives, and are happy to let others do the fighting. I was wrong. Many of these people were a lot braver than the men already in the armed forces, and most of them were treated abominably, with their hearings not even being conducted according to the law. Here it is:

This is “Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British And Commonwealth Military Intervention In The Russian Civil War, 1918-20” by Damien Wright. So far, I’ve read 100 pages out of 500 but it’s a really interesting book . Who would ever have thought that the First World War extended into 1920? Or that British, Canadian and French troops fought for Murmansk, with Japanese and Italians present as observers?

These next three books are superb. Absolutely wonderful. “Brendon Chase” is about some boys who go off to the woods to live like Robin Hood. “The Little Grey Men” are the last four gnomes  in England, and in the sequel, “Down the Bright Stream “, one of them goes missing and the remaining three must find him. Superb books for children from eight to ninety-eight:

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There are lots of books about the Battle of Britain. Here are my two favourites. Roger Hall’s book is fifty years old and you will probably need to search carefully at either abebooks, amazon or bookfinder. George Wellum’s book is very skilfully written  :

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A famous incident of the air war is investigated in this book by Jean-Pierre Ducellier. Its title is “The Amiens Raid: Secrets Revealed: The Truth Behind the Legend of Operation Jericho” and Ducellier has spent the majority of his adult life attempting to put the evidence together into a coherent whole. And his solution is not a lot like the official version:

“Sisters in Arms: The Women Who Flew in World War II ” is a book by Helena Page Schrader. It details the women who were recruited in both Great Britain and the United States to fly aircraft. The treatment they received was amazingly different, with the ATA praised to the skies and the American women being much less fortunate in what happened to them. There  is a series of reviews here. How surprising that many of the American reviewers, especially Loren Tompkins, are not at all pleased when the USA’s treatment of their women flyers is shown to be infinitely inferior to that of the RAF and the women of the ATA, so they just limit themselves to slinging the maximum amount of mud at the book and its author. Only two American reviewers are accurate, namely Brenda Ledford and Kythera A. Grunge:

Our next book is, in my opinion, absolutely outstanding. It’s “Subsmash: The Mysterious Disappearance of HM Submarine Affray”  by Alan Gallop. The book is just superb. Anybody would enjoy reading it, whether or not you like military matters. It refers back to the disappearance of a state-of-the-art British submarine in 1950, the Affray, and the subsequent extensive search.  No official explanation for the disaster has ever been forthcoming, and the submarine is still down there, its crew still sealed inside, lying on the seabed near the Channel Islands.

During the search a number of strange things happened. The strangest was the massive object found on the bottom by sonar. It was too big to be the Affray and the search continued elsewhere. Several days later, attempts were made to establish what the object was, but by then it had disappeared.  Another strange event was that the wife of a submarine skipper claimed to have seen a ghost in a dripping wet submarine officer’s uniform telling her the location of the sunken sub. The position he gave later turned out to be correct.

The next book is also top of its particular category. The author is Tony Redding and the book is called “Bombing Germany : the Final Phase”.  The first city to be attacked in that final phase was Dresden in February 1945  and then came Pforzheim. Both cities until then had been relatively unscathed. During these attacks, though, the destruction unleashed by Bomber Command was apocalyptic. The author examines what happened from virtually every point of view, the bomber crews, the defenders, the occupying forces, everybody, even the German civilians who murdered RAF crews and then buried them like dead animals. I don’t have the time to read many books twice, but I shall be making an exception for this particular one. It is superb:

The last word of this first list is perhaps linked more directly  to Christmas itself. It is a book with two stories in it, both of which are told in picture form like a graphic novel. The book is “Classic Bible Stories: Jesus – The Road of Courage/Mark the Youngest Disciple”. The title says it all…the life of Jesus and then the life of Mark, who was also, of course, the writer of one of the Gospels.  The book could not have had a more perfect pedigree. The idea was thought up by Marcus Morris, an English vicar who invented the comic “Eagle”, itself meant as a Christian magazine for young people. The first story was drawn by Frank Hampson, generally thought to be the very best comic artist in England, if not the world, at the time. Frank’s lifetime ambition as a devout Christian, had always been to participate in this venture. The text of both stories was written by Chad Varah, the founder of The Samaritans organisation.

I have read all of these books and they are all well worth your time and money. I have no connection with any of them, beyond a copy of each one in my bookcase.

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (11) Two short stories

Today, I’m just going to let you read two short stories from William Bottrell’s “Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall— Third Series” which Bottrell self-published in 1880.

The first story is told about a young farmer called Richard Vingoe who was targeted by fairies, for no good reason other than it was within their power to do so, near Treville Cliffs in West Cornwall:

“After wandering for five hours over places which appeared strange to him, Richard followed the path through the rocky bottom or glen into an underground passage or cavern, from which, on emerging, he found himself in a pleasant looking country.”

“Walking on, he heard the sounds of merrymaking and came to a place where people appeared to be having a feast. He noticed a great number of persons playing bowls. Being fond of that game, he was about to run and seize the silver ball as it fell near him, when a female darted from behind a rock, which had screened her from view, and made eager signs for him to stop playing and to follow her. She went into an orchard near at hand. He approached and saw that she was a young lady who he had once loved, but who had been dead for a number of years. She told him she was changed into the fairy state by having trespassed on the fairies’ domain, and that he had narrowly escaped the same fate.”

“She was disposed to save him for the sake of their former attachment. When the persons playing bowls and spectators of the game had all gone out of sight, she conducted her former lover to the upper world by a shorter road than that by which he entered; on the way she told him that, as he was engaged to be married within a few weeks, she had no desire to detain him. She advised him, however, to defer his wedding three years, that he might be sure he knew his own mind. When Vingoe promised to follow her advice, they passed through an opening in a carn, and he saw Nanjizal” (which is a real place):

His conductress then said good-bye, and vanished. Being fatigued with his journey, he lay on the grass, near the spot where he again saw the light of day, and there he was found asleep nearly a week after. Vingoe was never the same man again, for he took to hard drinking and he died unmarried.

Notice how many of the usual themes are introduced…..

………wandering for hours, disorientation, caverns in the rocks, a distant feast and merrymaking, an orchard, playing bowls, a dead person who is not dead but has been captured by the fairies and finally, the poor innocent victim who, like all the rest, is affected by his time with the fairies.

The map below shows you where Nanjizal is, thanks to the efforts of the Orange Arrow. This is the very last bit of England (hence Land’s End) and the dark grey shading in the top right represents the western edge of the town of Penzance. As an area, it is full of magic and witchcraft, even nowadays, and it must contain at least fifty Stone Age circles and other types of monument.

The second story concerns a servant girl called Grace who has been tricked into going to work for a human sized fairy:

“Grace told her master (the human sized fairy)  that she wasn’t used to going to bed so early. He answered,  “Please yourself on that score, and stay up as long as you want to.”

He then brought her a basket of fruit and told her to eat what she pleased of them. Afterwards, he gave her a cup of fruit juice that she found delicious. By the time she had drunk it to the last drop, she forgot her home and playmates among the hills. She forgot her brothers and her sisters, her father and her mother even. She no more remembered her former life, and only thought of her kind Master and the delightful place in which he lived. She dreamed of it that night and nothing else.”

This last tale could well have been something from a science-fiction short story. Not only do we have the familiar tale of eating or drinking something, and then there is no escape ( rather like the Greek Persephone) but we also have that feeling of lethargy yet total happiness, and a forgetfulness that leads to a perfect life, almost as if Grace had joined a modern day sect:

If you ever see the gentleman in the picture, make sure that you tell him what a “helter-skelter” is in England. It’s not what he thought it was.

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The Best of CHS (1)

I thought I would share with you what I personally considered to be the best photographs that the Reverend Charles Stephens took during his years at the High School. Firstly, he took many pictures of various groups of boys. This is a bicycle ride to Southwell in 1952:

Here is a group of boys eating their lunch while out on a field trip during the 1950s. It is a Form called “3 Red”:

A couple of years later, the Reverend Stephens, like all staff, known by his initials, CHS, took two slightly overlapping photographs of a different 3 Red. This is the left side of the Form, as he looked at them:

Here is the other side, nearer to the window. Only one boy manages to crane his way into both photographs:

This picture shows an unknown group of boys almost ready to play rugby at the Valley Road playing fields, probably back in the late 1950s. One brave little chap will be playing in his white plimsolls by the look of it. I wish I knew the supervising Master’s name:

The last group of boys is the Combined Cadet Force in 1957, practicing their drills near the old Green Shed. This huge edifice was first erected by the army during the severe winter of 1942.  It was in the north-west corner of the playground which the school had hitherto used for its cricket nets and practice wickets. The shed was used to store searchlight units and sound ranging equipment, which was brought out for drill in the daytime. The High School’s classrooms were used for the army’s theory lectures.
After a while, despite the snow and ice, the army began to dig the foundations for a second shed in the middle of the playground. According to popular legend, it was only when Mr Reynolds, the Headmaster, lined up the entire school and carefully explained to the foreman that the boys might well pelt them with snowballs as they worked was the idea given up. Protests were also made to the War Office through more normal channels. Until the playground received a new coat of asphalt in the late 1980s, the exploratory marks left by the army’s engineers could still be seen:

Here’s the Green Shed in the 1980s and it really was green.:

The last photograph is of a group, but not a group of human beings. This is the queue of trolleybuses waiting to take boys back from Sports Day to School at four o’clock, probably in 1957:

That type of vehicle, with rubber tyres, and powered by an overhead electricity supply,  would have been a bit cheaper than building our present tram system, where, apparently, only 10% of the cost goes on the overhead wires.

 

 

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A nasty German in Woodville, Part Two, the True Facts

The Luftwaffe’s Gruppe III./KG.4, full name 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 arrived at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands in the middle of January 1941. They would be there until July 31st when they left for the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front:

During the first part of their stay, in one of the hardest winters for years, they spent a lot of time training and then taking part in planned air raids on the cities and ports of Great Britain. They were flying twin engined Heinkel He-111H version bombers, “hard to start greenhouses”, which scared the bejesus out of the locals who lived near the airfield. They were all loaded to the maximum limits with explosives and fuel, and on quite a few occasions, seemed to struggle to climb over the locals’ houses in this birthplace of Mata Hari:

On Tuesday, June 24th 1941 the pilot of one of the Heinkel He-111Hs, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz, took off at 23.00 hours, tasked with laying mines in the Mersey Estuary near Liverpool. With him was a crew of three men, Stabsfeldwebel H Glkowski, Obergefreiter Friedrich Ertzinger, the Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, and Feldwebel W Köller.

At 02.30 hrs, somewhere between the Wash and Liverpool, the Heinkel was intercepted on radar and then attacked by a Bristol Beaufighter of 25 Squadron, based at RAF Wittering, squadron codes ZK:

The Beaufighter was flown by Pilot Officer DW Thompson, with Pilot Officer LD Britain acting as the airborne interception radar operator (A1). Pilot Officer Britain picked up the Heinkel almost half way between Sheffield and Nottingham just under approximately 20,000 feet up, and stalked the twin engined bomber for a quarter of an hour. Slowly, slowly, the Beaufighter crew crept up on their prey and then opened fire with their four 20 mm Hispano cannons. Here they are, under the nose of the aircraft. There were also six .303in machine guns, two in the port wing and four in the starboard wing. This made it the most heavily armed British fighter of the war, with a total of ten guns:

The RAF night fighter scored many hits on the hapless Heinkel. The cannon shells and machine gun bullets hit home with the same impact in energy terms as a broadside from a Royal Navy destroyer. The Heinkel’s starboard engine dissolved into flames and stopped working. A few minutes later, the bomber’s undercarriage fell out of its engine nacelles, increasing the plane’s drag enormously:

Immediately the bomber began to lose height rapidly, and as they plunged down to 1,000 feet, the pilot, Oberleutnant Schwartz, gave the order to the crew to bale out. Sadly, by the time he baled out himself, the aircraft was too low and his parachute failed to deploy. Schwartz was killed but his three colleagues, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller all escaped safely.

The Heinkel crashed close to the buildings of Edwards Farm in Lullington, a sleepy little village in South Derbyshire, some six miles south west of Woodville. This satellite view shows just how countrified Lullington still is even nowadays, eighty years after the event :

As soon as the Heinkel hit the ground, its bombs immediately exploded, scattering pieces of the plane over an area of some fifteen acres. The Home Guard would later find the tail mounted MG 17 machine gun. The aircraft had also been fitted with two external PVC 1006 bomb racks to increase its weapon carrying capacity.

The three surviving members of the crew, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller, landed in fields belonging to Edwards Farm. They were immediately captured and taken prisoner by two Home Guard men, Jack and Geoff Edwards, the brothers who owned the farm where the wreckage of the plane fell :

Ultimately the German aviators were taken to the Police Station at Woodville Tollgate to be locked up until the army could come and pick them up later that day. Here’s the Police Station again:

And what happened to the rest of the men involved ?

On July 31st 1941 the entire 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 was sent to the Eastern Front. It was a lovely place to walk the dog :

Poor Oberleutnant Schwartz received a full military funeral at Fradley Church near the cathedral city of Lichfield on June 27th 1941. He was buried in the lovely English churchyard around the church. Here’s the church:

And here’s his grave :

In recent years, at the Battle of Britain service in September, an officer of the Luftwaffe based at 16 M.U. Stafford has laid a wreath on the grave of the pilot, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz. Everybody was very happy to see this, and evinced the hope that it would continue for many years to come.

A number of years after the end of the war, in 1979, Friedrich Ertzinger, the Heinkel’s Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, visited Edwards Farm where he was given a wonderful reception by the two Edwards brothers. These visits continued for a number of years, and all three men enjoyed themselves enormously.

Pilot Officer LD Britain survived the war. You may remember that he was the airborne interception radar operator in the successful Beaufighter.

Pilot Officer David William Thompson, a mere 22 years old and the pilot of that successful Beaufighter, did not survive the conflict. Indeed, when he shot down that Heinkel over Lullington, he had only fourteen more days to live. On July 8th 1941, piloting a Bristol Beaufighter If, serial number, T4629, for an unknown reason, he plunged into the ground near Wittering. His airborne interception radar operator, Flight Sergeant Richard George Crossman, was also killed instantly.

David William Thompson was the son of the Reverend Hamlet George Thompson and of Dora Muriel Thompson (née Watney), of Little Munden Rectory in Hertfordshire. David was buried in Wittering (All Saints) Churchyard.

Richard George Crossman was the son of Richard Berkley Crossman and Clara Priscilla Crossman and the husband of Mary Crossman, who all hailed from Watford. Richard is buried in Watford Cemetery:

His grave bears the inscription “Cherished memories, loved by all who knew him”.

 

 

 

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The finest fighter of World War II

The P-51 Mustang was the most successful and most significant single-seat fighter of World War Two. It was initially designed for the British RAF and the most amazing fact is that from the moment the chief designer, James Kindelberger, sharpened his pencil to start work, to the moment the prototype roared off down the runway, was only 119 days.

That early prototype certainly showed promise, and so did all the subsequent A-36 Apaches, although they clearly had serious limitations at altitude.

And then, at Hucknall Aerodrome, just five miles from where my trusty computer now sits, with yours truly at the controls, the senior liaison test pilot with Rolls-Royce. a New Zealander named Ronnie Harker, earned his best ever pay rise of one pound a week (just over one and a half dollars). Ronnie thought up the scheme to put a British Rolls Royce Merlin 61 engine into the underpowered North American Mustang. This was the same engine as the Spitfire IX, and it cured all the problems the aircraft was having over 15,000 feet and gave its newly invented Laminar Flow Wing the chance to shine. Here is that huge Merlin:

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And poor Ronnie Harker. I suppose that for the rest of his life people must have introduced him at parties by saying, “Have you met Ronnie, the man who put the Merlin in the Mustang?”  You can read a much more detailed story via this link.  The article is called “The Cadillac of the Skies” Here’s the Hendon Mustang from a slightly unusual angle:

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A second great leap forward for the aircraft was the fitting of the drop tanks which permitted Mustangs to fly and fight all the way to Berlin and back. The appearance of this superb fighter over the Brandenburg Gate sounded the death knell of the Third Reich, because in trying to fight off the B-17s and the B-24s, the Luftwaffe would slowly but surely be destroyed by the P-51 escort fighters. In 1944, for example, P-51 Mustangs would shoot down 6,039 German dayfighters.  That left the Germans with hardly any experienced pilots, considerably fewer defensive aircraft and a big, big problem.

Here’s the view after descending the stairs:

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This particular example of a P-51 was constructed at Inglewood in California in 1945. It began in USAAF Air Training Command before, in 1950, being transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force. It then had an enormously long history of toing and froing until it reached Hendon in 2003, where it was finally painted as the Mustang belonging to Captain Donald R Emerson of the 336th Fighter Squadron  based at Debden, in Essex. Here is Donald’s nose art:

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Captain Emerson was killed by ground fire on Christmas Day 1944, as he flew over Belgium on the very last of his 89 missions. He had scored 4½ victories in the air, plus 3½ on the ground. He is buried at Margrattan in Holland.

It says everything about the Mustang that over fifteen or so minutes, I was unable to take a photograph without somebody in shot. There was a constant, steady stream of admirers, with a good few photographers:

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And married couples:

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And my wife and daughter:

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It is impossible to waste your time if you are looking at a Mustang:

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As John Keats so rightly put it in a poem he wrote on his visit to the RAF Hendon Museum in 1818 :

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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