Author Archives: jfwknifton

The Sandiacre Screw Company (10)

The brave young men from the High School who died defending their country have left relatively little behind them. Sometimes we have a  few blurry photographs of school plays (the “woman” next to the teacher, and the boy in the middle of the very back row);

And sometimes we have a few blurry pictures of them in their uniforms:

We have some nice pieces of writing in the Nottinghamian magazine from Frank Corner and from John Walker. In the School Archives, John Grain’s school cricket blazer has hung on a hook there since 1936 and will hopefully continue to hang there until “towers cave in and walls collapse”. Whenever I saw it, I always thought that John could not possibly have imagined such a lonely fate for his blazer. No, he thought that one day in 1980. when he was 61 years old and a fat old man, he would come up to visit his old school and get them to dig out his old blazer and he’d then try it on. He’d say:

“Look! It almost fits me!”

And everybody would laugh and say:

“Why!  You can’t even get it over your shoulders! You must have grown a lot of muscles in the last forty five years! Perhaps the army made you fitter!”

And then he’d go back to his grandchildren and tell them where he’d been that day, and what it was like when he was at school.

We have a couple of Keith Doncaster’s poems.

In addition, we also have a lovely picture of the Officers Training Corps in 1937, with Keith on the left hand end of the very front row, looking extremely youthful and nowhere near his calendar age:

Keith Doncaster though, is the only casualty from the Second World War, of around 125 men, of whom we have a cinefilm. It was originally for sale on the internet but it can now be watched for free on BFI-Player, courtesy of the BFI, the British Film Institute. The four-minute film is silent and rather blurred, but everything is recognisable.

The title is “Shenstone and Longmoor Farm May-July 1943” but most of it clearly shows Keith in the garden of the family house in Sandiacre, relaxing on leave in the early summer of 1943.

Keith is in full, impeccable, RAF uniform, his hair shining with the traditional Brylcreem. He is a very slight young man, looking much younger than his actual age:

And then you can turn it into a close-up:

Then we see him walking towards the camera:

Then he’s on the lawn scratching the cat’s ears,:

He’s walking around the lawn, and then sitting down on a garden bench:

His sergeant’s stripes stand out in a pale grey world. What must be his father is there, wearing his office suit and smoking a cigarette:

A very old couple is there too. They could be Grandma and Grandad, but equally, they may well be the gardener and the cook:

There are shots of what must be Longmoor Farm with cows. One of them is very tame and Keith can scratch the back of its head and neck just like a dog:

Back at Sandiacre, the humans are still a mystery. Keith is with an elegantly dressed woman that may be his mother:

Certainly Dad is there, this time without the hat:

Back on the farm there is a herd of cows in a field, then two calves are let loose in a field to scamper and chase each other like two dogs:

But who are the two men? The cowmen? Alas, we will certainly never know:

And one of the stills I produced is quite lovely:

One more blog post, before Keith Doncaster fades back into history.

The home movie is available at

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-doncaster-shenstone-and-longmoor-farm-may-july-1943-1943-online

and of slightly lower standards of presentation, at

https://www.macearchive.org/films/doncaster-shenstone-and-longmoor-farm-may-july-1943

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Film & TV, History, military, Nottingham, The High School

Stories about my Dad (3)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  gave up his exciting job as a Brylcreem Boy of Bomber Command and signed up to be for what was called at the time “emergency training” as a teacher. It has always intrigued me as to how many veterans of Bomber Command became teachers. And I have my own ideas about that! Fred finished up getting a job quite near to his home, at a school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. The school was built in 1898 for 420 children. Fred taught there until the mid-1950s.

Here’s a modern map of the area. The Orange Arrow points to where Hastings Road School used to stand before it had to be demolished in the late 1950s, lest the subsidence problems made it collapse completely with the teachers and children inside :

When my Dad, Fred, worked there, the vast majority of the children were the sons and daughters of miners, both of coal and of clay. They were all what you would call “rough diamonds”.

Most of them, therefore, were far from sophisticated, either in their knowledge or their behaviour or, indeed, their hygiene. Fred used to tell the story of having a boy in his class called “Stinky Roberts” . At the beginning of the school year, Fred was given the helpful advice by his colleagues never to let this particular boy sit next to a hot radiator under any circumstances. If he sits next to a radiator, then make him move!

Whether it was because Fred did not believe the other teachers, or whether it was because, in the absence of any particularly obvious hygiene problem, he quite simply forgot their advice, remains unclear.  But on one unfortunate day, when “Stinky” did get to sit by that scorching radiator, the wisdom of his colleagues became manifest, as the unbelievable stench of long unwashed filth and ancient, uncontrolled urine wafted inescapably around the room. In this way, Fred learnt one of the most important basics of teaching, namely that no boy is ever given a nickname without very good reason.

At one point, Fred had a bet with another teacher that he could leave his class working quietly while he went down to Lloyds Bank in Swadlincote to draw out some money. The pupils were told to behave themselves properly while he was away, and to continue with their work. This they duly did, and Fred won the bet.

In another variation of what was obviously the same story, Fred did not go down to the bank in Swadlincote, but instead, went to post a letter at the Church Gresley Post Office, a destination considerably nearer to Hastings Road School, and, from the point of view of unsupervised children, a much shorter, and therefore, perhaps, a more plausible time to be away.

One of Fred’s more pleasant jobs was the fact that he ran the school football team. He was partnered in this by his young friend, Vernon Langford. We do actually have a misty photograph of the staff at Hastings Road. Here it is :

The teachers are (back row), Mr Morris, Mr Roberts, Mr Baker, Mr Picker, Mr Goodall and Mr Knifton. The front row comprises Miss Rowe, Miss Smith, Mr Handford, Mrs Errington and Mrs P Middleton.

Fred’s teaching career at Hastings Road reached its pinnacle when he was conducting a lesson in Physics. At this time all secondary school teachers, even those who were trained to teach Geography, were expected to be able to turn their hand to more or less anything.

Fred’s brief was to demonstrate the effects of air pressure, so he took a pint glass, filled it with water, and then put a sheet of card over the top. He then explained that in a moment, when he turned the glass upside down, the contents would not spill out, because the air pressure on the card, which was equal to hundreds of pounds, was pressing down and keeping it in place. This news was received by the children, of course, with immense scepticism.

When Fred turned the glass over, however, perhaps as much to his surprise as anybody else’s, the rather unlikely result was that the card did actually stay in place, and the water did not spill out. The children’s reaction was astonishing. They were all totally amazed. One boy stood up, and shouted at the top of his voice, “A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ” And then he ran out of the room and around the school, still shouting

“A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ”

I believe that this incident was the closest that Fred ever came to being regarded as divine. Here’s a video of a mere mortal man trying out this trick:

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, my Dad, Personal, Science

The Sandiacre Screw Company (9)

There is a rather beautiful stained glass window to the memory of young Ivan Keith Doncaster in St Giles’ Church in Sandiacre in Derbyshire.

It has a wonderful representation of St George with his sword and shield. Notice how he is flying, totally in keeping with an RAF casualty :

Lower down, Lincoln Cathedral is included:

There is also a superb illustration of an airman kneeling in prayer under the Tree of Life. To the right is the badge of the RAF with “Per ardua ad astra” and the badge of 166 Squadron, with its bulldog and its motto of “Tenacity” :

In the Long Eaton Advertiser, in Keith’s obituary, the local newspaper said that he was “thoughtful, quiet and unassuming, with a great love of the land and the country people”.

On his gravestone, Keith’s parents had the following inscription:

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die”.

The wireless operator, Edward Ellis Jones, had slightly more direct feelings expressed:

“He gave his life that others might live. God bless him”

These sentiments are echoed by the words on the gravestone of Roy Elkington Ault, the bomb aimer:

“He died so that England might live”.

Similar feelings to these were expressed by Keith in his “Last letter”, the letter which is left behind, sealed, and may only be opened by parents or wife in the event of the writer’s death:

“These ops are what we have been training for, for many months. Now is our chance to make this earth a place for decent people to live in. I hope that the seven of us can flatten a large number of German homes as well as factories during our tour of ops. If I do have to go then I only hope that I can have a good chance to do some damage over there first. If that happens I shall die in the way that any Englishman would want to—fighting for his country.”

There are two more blog posts in the future to round off this tragic tale. And by the way, the pictures of those beautiful stained glass windows were originally put on the internet by “Berenice UK” in 2015.

Here’s Keith at the High School again:

Here he is in the RAF……..

And here he is at home as Sergeant Doncaster, mid-upper gunner…..

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, military, Nottingham, The High School

What would you do ? (15) 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 the comic every week, 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 blue square carries the following text:

“Shoulder to shoulder the Roman soldiers stand tensed to face the thundering might of Hannibal’s elephants. But the Romans’ spears are of little use against the living battering-ram that sweeps down on them. Great gaps are torn in the tightly packed Roman ranks. Now Hannibal’s soldiers can follow through and rout the enemy. The Roman general, Scipio, knows that if he is to win future battles he must stop the elephants breaking his shield wall. What can he do?”

And the correct solution given on page 9 of the comic is:

And in case you are reading the extract from “Boys’ World” on a 1962 b/w television set, here is the text given above:

“In future battles, Scipio formed his ranks not as a solid mass, but with a soldier in every other space. When the elephants charged, the soldiers had room to move aside. This left clear lanes through which the elephants stormed harmlessly. When they had passed, the soldiers merely returned to their original positions.”

And as a very brief trip down memory lane, here is the advertisement right next to the problem solution on page 9. It is for the two latest Matchbox toys :

Nowadays, even the 24 page Matchbox catalogue is valuable, and certainly worth more than the original threepence, which was, theoretically, two pence in today’s money.

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Filed under Africa, History, Humour

What would you do ? (15) The Puzzle

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, a boys’ comic aimed, funnily enough, at boys. The comic was in existence for only 19 months of 1963-1964.

I bought it mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle called “What would you do ?”. Somebody was in what Ned Flanders calls “A dilly of a pickle” and you had to get him out of it.

Here’s the situation:

In case you can’t read it, I’ve enlarged the blue box which reads…….

The exact text is :

“Shoulder to shoulder the Roman soldiers stand tensed to face the thundering might of Hannibal’s elephants. But the Romans’ spears are of little use against the living battering-ram that sweeps down on them. Great gaps are torn in the tightly packed Roman ranks. Now Hannibal’s soldiers can follow through and rout the enemy. The Roman general, Scipio, knows that if he is to win future battles he must stop the elephants breaking his shield wall. What can he do?”

Your task is to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your ideas in the “Comments” section.

It certainly is a dilly of a pickle, although I wouldn’t depend too much on finding the answer in there!

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Filed under History, Humour, military

The Sandiacre Screw Company (8)

Ivan Keith Doncaster was lost on a raid on Kassel by 166 Squadron on October 22nd 1943.  He was the mid-upper gunner in  “Z-Zebra”, an Avro Lancaster Mk III with the squadron letters AS-Z and the serial number EE196…..

The morning after “Z-Zebra” had crashed, and most of the crew had been killed, including Keith Doncaster,  the flight engineer, Arthur Pilbeam, had the appalling task of identifying the four corpses which had so far been found. He thought that they all had been killed by the exploding bombload or had been unable to pull their ripcords after they jumped because they were unconscious.

I have been unable to identify any likely German pilot who might have pulled the trigger. When so many black painted aircraft were shot down in the pitch black, there were so many claims that hardly any of them can be verified:

Let’s take an example from the night of October 22nd-23rd 1943. Oberleutnant Hermann Bertram claimed a four engined aircraft “35 km N Kassel” at an altitude of 4,200 metres. How do we know if it was a Halifax or a Lancaster? Was he definitely “35 km N Kassel”? Did he see it crash? And so on.

Oberleutnant Bertram is not a liar. He is a young man who cannot possibly be 100% certain of what happened. And the same would apply to a very long list of night fighter pilots who might possibly have shot down “Z-Zebra”. These men claimed to have destroyed a Lancaster or a Halifax or a “4-mot flugzeug” and they mentioned Kassel in their claim. No doubt the list is incomplete:

Horst-Rüdiger Blume, Fritz Brandt, Franz Brinkhaus, Victor Emanuel, Leopold Fellerer, Erwin Glass, Ernst Haase, Alfred Heldt, Johannes Hiedlmayer, Werner Hoffmann, Horst John, Otto Kutzner, Hans Leickhardt, Richard Lofgen, Erich Metz, Manfred Meurer, Klaus Möller, Hans von Niebelschütz, Günther Nord, Heinz Oberheide, Ruprecht Panzer, Erhard Peters, Günther Radusch, Lothar Sachs, Josef Sallmütter, Heinrich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, Eduard Schröder, Helmuth Schulte, Paul Streuff, Gustav Tham, Kurt Welter, Gerhard Witt, Achim Wœste, Josef Wolfsberger and Fritz Yung.

And here are four of them:

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Eventually, all six of the crew of “Z-Zebra” were found. They were buried in Schwalenberg Cemetery on October 25th 1943. On September 18th 1947, they were all re-interred at Hanover War Cemetery. They occupy five graves that must be next to each other.

Keith Doncaster occupies Grave No 16.E.1, Edward Ellis Jones occupies Grave No 16.E.2, Roy Elkington Ault occupies Grave No 16.E.3, Victor George Deacon occupies Grave No 16.E.4 and Charles Neville Hammond occupies Grave No 16.E.5. The sole American, John Murray Walton, was reburied in the Ardennes American Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz in Belgium on an unrecorded date.

The Lancaster’s pilot, Charles Neville Hammond, received a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and self-sacrifice as he struggled to fly the stricken Lancaster straight and level so that its crew could all escape the burning aircraft.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, military, Nottingham, The High School

The Sandiacre Screw Company (7)

Six young men were killed in Keith Doncaster’s bomber, which was lost on a raid by 166 Squadron on Kassel on October 22nd 1943. Keith was the mid-upper gunner in  “Z-Zebra”, an Avro Lancaster Mk III with the squadron letters AS-Z and the serial number EE196. The fact that he was engaged in a raid on Kassel does actually establish a rather tenuous link with my own father, Fred Knifton, who, at the time, was with 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds. My Dad had been involved on the raid on Peenemünde in an effort to prevent the Germans developing the V1 and the V2. All of the participants, in all of their different briefing rooms, were told…..

“If you don’t destroy thr target tonight, you’ll have to go back the following night. And the the night after that and the next night, until the target is destroyed.”

Keith Doncaster’s raid on Kassel was a kind of a follow up to my Dad’s efforts. This time the bombers were after the Fieseler aircraft works which were heavily engaged with developing and manufacturing the guidance gear used to keep both the V1 and the V2 on the right track. And the raid was successful. Kassel was, to all intents and purposes, “flattened”.

The pilot of “Z-Zebra”was Charles Neville Hammond, the son of Thomas Neville Hammond and Doris Hammond from Llanrug in Caernarvonshire, and the husband of Mary Hammond of Odiham in Hampshire.  This is Llanrug, a quiet little town:

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Charles was 23 years old. He had begun his RAF career as a Leading Aircraftman before receiving an emergency commission. He had previously attended the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, a grammar school which numbered Paul McCartney and George Harrison among its old boys. What a school photograph this is:

The navigator was Master Sergeant John Murray Walton who was 21 years old. John was serving with the 12th Replacement Control Depot of the USAAF.  He was the son of an American couple, Melville R Walton and Mabel Walton although he was born in Ontario in Canada. He was a Canadian citizen by reason of his birth and an American citizen by reason of his parents’ nationality. John had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force but then, like thousands of others, he flew with the RAF. He was the navigator and one of the very few men in World War 2 with a Distinguished Flying Medal, an Air Medal and a Purple Heart:

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The bomb aimer was Roy Elkington Ault, the son of Reuben John Ault and Olive Eugenie Ault from Sidcup in Kent, although Roy was born in Stamford in Lincolnshire. He was 22 years old. He too, began as a Leading Aircraftman before receiving an emergency commission. Here’s Stamford, another quiet little town, with all the buildings of that warm yellow-orange colour:

The wireless operator was Edward Ellis Jones, the son of Evan Jones and Mary Ellen Jones. He was born at Ammanford, a tiny community in Carmarthenshire in South Wales. He was the husband of Margaret Jones who lived in Wembley in Middlesex. Edward was 32 years old. He had originally been a sergeant before receiving an emergency commission:

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Keith Doncaster, the mid-upper gunner, was 20 years and 5 days old.

The rear gunner was Victor George Deacon, the son of George Victor Deacon and Edith Elizabeth Deacon. Victor came from Brixton in Surrey. Here’s Brixton and a distinctive building Victor might have been familiar with:

Victor was 35 years old and his wife was Lilian Elizabeth Ruskin who lived in Long Eaton in Derbyshire. They had a son called James Deacon. Long Eaton is only three miles from Keith’s house in Sandiacre and Keith had been a member of the Long Eaton Air Training Corps. Did these two young men ever travel home together on leave? Did they visit each other’s families? Did Keith ever look wistfully at little James and wish that he had a son of his own? Long Eaton Air Training Corps are still in business today:

The flight engineer was the only survivor. He was Arthur Iden Pilbeam from Kent. His father, also called Arthur Iden Pilbeam, was a baker and lived at 66 St Mary’s Road in Tunbridge Wells, which I found on that all-seeing google application:

His mother was Mary Pilbeam and his wife was Irene Lilian Pilbeam née Abbott. After being captured, Arthur became Prisoner of War No 261472 at Sagan, then Belaria and finally at Mühlberg (Elbe). After the war he became a fruiterers’ manager and a member of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers. Arthur lived to a ripe old age, passing away in Chichester in Sussex at the age of 92. Good for him!

Keith’s aircraft had been shot down by a night-fighter, around sixty miles short of Kassel. It crashed at Brakelsiek, roughly 110 miles from Düsseldorf and to the NNW of Kassel. The only survivor, Arthur Pilbeam, has actually supplied an account of what happened. A night-fighter attacked without warning and one wing of the Lancaster burst into flames. The pilot struggled with his damaged controls to give everybody time to escape, but the stricken Lancaster went into a spin after one of the bombs exploded, hit by a cannon shell from the night-fighter. Seconds later, the whole aircraft blew up. Here’s a nice old building in Brakielsk:

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, military, Nottingham, The High School

Football Programmes of the Soviet Union (5)

I don’t often begin with a dedication but perhaps, just this once……

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”

And certainly, when I started out, I never thought I would one day be writing Blog Post Number Six hundred threescore and six. Anyway……

 

Last time we were looking at some of the old Soviet football/soccer programmed that I still have.

The first programme today has “Uralmash Sverdlovsk” / “Уралмаш Свердловск” as the away team, but this time with “Stroityel Ashkhabad” / “Строитель Ашхабад”, as their hosts. You may remember from Blog Post 4 that “Uralmash” was a little like an acronym, where “Ural” referred to the range of mountains and “Mash” was short for “Mashina” , the Russian word for “car”. The two together referred to a car factory in Sverdlovsk, the main city of the Urals. Sverdlovsk is now called Ekaterinberg, just to add to the confusion:

“Stroitel Ashkhabad” /“Строитель Ашхабад” means “Ashkhabad Construction Workers”, although this particular team have previously been “Locomotiv Ashkhabad” / “Локомотив (railway workers) Ашхабад”  and “Колхощи (collective farm workers) Ашхабад”. How original, and different, those names were, compared to the modern “FK Köpetdag Aşgabat”. “Köpetdag” by the way, means “Many mountains”, presumably in the local language.

Ashkhabad, by the way, is the capital of Turkmenistan, which is to the north east of Iran, and certainly part of Asia. Just to puzzle everybody further, on this map, the cartographers have decided to label Iran the “Middle East”. I have no idea why.

Here are the team line ups:

The top two words mean “make-ups” and “of the teams”. In brackets, the next few words mean “about- possible- changes- listen…….“по радио” ……..to-the radio -before-the beginning…….. “матча”  of the match.

Russian is a very ancient language, of the same age and vintage as Latin or Ancient Greek. There are a surprisingly large number of Russian words which do not come from Latin, but which are close relations of the Latin words. ““по” / “po” is the same word as the Latin “per”, as in “per ardua ad astra” the motto of the RAF, “Through difficulties to the stars”. “Before the match” was “перед  матча” and the word “p-e-r-e-d” is our “pre” as in “prehistoric” or “premature”.

Notice how on this programme, there is a late change to the team so that Papuga doesn’t play at No 7 but instead he is replaced by what might be “Yegorshin” although it’s not particularly clear. But just think of the circumstances of that team change, made with Oleg Soloviev’s fountain pen. He is sitting in a seat at the Central Stadium in Sverdlovsk, the city to which, in 1941,  Stalin organised the  large scale removal of the Soviet Union’s industry, so that it was beyond the range of German bombers. For Oleg, it is Monday, October 9th 1967, just a few moments after 6 o’clock, when the team changes are announced. He is more than 3,000 miles away from where I, aged just 14, am still working away in school.

In a few hours’ time,  ground control at NASA will crash the American space probe, “Lunar Orbiter 3”, deliberately onto the Moon’s surface after eight months in orbit. In La Higuera, a village in Bolivia, in his cell, the prisoner has just a few hours left to live before Army Sergeant Mario Terán takes his semi-automatic rifle and shoots him nine times. His prisoner is a young doctor and revolutionary Marxist named Ché Guevara. And on Saturday, October 21 1967, the first ever national demonstration against the Vietnam war will take place in Washington.

Our penultimate  programme is a match which took place in what was then called Kuybyshev (Куйбышев) and is now called Samara. It is a city of 1.14 million residents, situated on the River Volga:

This football team is still in the Russian Premier Division and is still called “Krylia Sovetov” just as as it was in  those “Golden Days of Communism”. In Russian “Krylia Sovetov” is “Крылья Советов” and it means “Wings of the Soviets”, surely one of the most dramatic names in world football.

The away team, on the left, is from Zaporizhzhia (Запорожье) which is nowadays a city in south-eastern Ukraine., once the site of a big car factory and nowadays the largest nuclear power station in Europe. Here is their badge of today…….

The name of the team is “Металлург” or “Metallurg”, a reference to Zaporizhzhia’s factories during the Soviet era in which they produced steel, aluminium and many other products of heavy industry.

The last programme of the lot is another home game for “Кубань Краснодар” aka “Kuban Krasnodar”. If you remember, “Krasnodar”, the name of the city, means “gift of the Reds” and the Kuban was the local river. The opponents are “Терек Грозный” aka “Terek Grozniy”. Nowadays the team is called “FC Akhmat Grozny”. Back in 1969, the game was a seven o’clock evening game on Tuesday, June 17th 1969. Top left is the complete date, namely “Вторник 17 июня 1969 г ”  The “г” is short for “года” (“goda”) which means “of the year”.

Grozny is not really a place for a romantic weekend break. It is the capital of Chechnya, home of the Chechens, who are primarily of the Muslim faith. You can read about the wars here, the first of three wikipedia articles.

The new team, “FC Akhmat Grozny”, is now named after Akhmat Kadyrov who was the Chief Mufti of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in the 1990s. He changed sides in 2000 and became the President of the Chechen Republic. On May 9th 2004, he was assassinated by Chechen Islamists in Grozny.

Grozny is a place name, but in Russian it also means something. “Грозный” is an adjective meaning “terrible, formidable, redoubtable, menacing, threatening, stern or ferocious”. It can be applied to a look, a glance, a storm, a danger, or a tsar. “Иван” is “Ivan”  and I’m sure that you can work out which of the many Ivans was the tsar called “Иван Грозный”.

But what is a “Terek”? Well, it’s a river in the northern Caucasus. Here it flows through Vladikavkaz,  the old Tsarist fortress and garrison town, and nowadays, the home of the beautiful Mukhtarov Mosque:

To me though, the word “Terek” will always be associated with a rare bird in England, the Terek Sandpiper, a wader which always runs to the water’s edge to wash its food before it eats it. It is also one of the very few birds whose beak points upwards. Not many people know that.

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Filed under Football, History, Literature, Personal, Politics, Russia

Stories about my Dad (2)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  left the Brylcreem Boys of the RAF and Bomber Command, and signed up to be trained as a teacher. He finished up getting a job quite near to his home in Hartshorne Road, Woodville. It was at the school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. He taught there until the mid-1950s. In the 1990s, when I used to go and watch the local football/soccer team, Gresley Rovers, I met one or two of his erstwhile pupils who all remembered him, as a very strict teacher who brooked no nonsense. That might well have been because the teenage sons of coalminers at Hastings Road would have been a tough proposition to keep under control in classes of more than forty, especially for a first time teacher. I can quite well imagine that Fred would have had to employ what DH Lawrence, faced also with teaching the teenage sons of coalminers, called “three years’ savage teaching of collier lads”.

Here’s Hastings Road School. I have used one of the reprinted Victorian maps of England sold by Alan Godfrey . Hastings Road is in the middle of the eastern edge:

Notice how many “Old coal shafts” there are, even in this small area. Just after the war, there were up to 17 coal mines active in the area, as well as numerous vast open cast clay mines. Just try to imagine how small a human figure would be on this postcard, if those are full sized factory buildings in the background. Open cast clay mines were really gigantic…….

All of these activities, of course, left the entire area prey to subsidence. I found a very short article about this particular area on the internet. It said that

“…….the subsidence here was so severe the town’s plight became a national embarrassment. Schools, libraries and even entire streets were either propped up or knocked down as the town sank at an alarming rate.”

As a little boy in the late 1950s, we often used to drive up to Church Gresley to see the houses which had been damaged by the subsidence, which was produced by a 150-odd years of intensive coal mining. These houses were easily recognisable, being  propped up with huge beams of wood or extra long railway sleepers. Here are some of the less serious supports in a picture from a 1949 newspaper. I can remember enormously thick beams of wood when I saw them in the late 1950s. The houses must have been in an even worse state by then. Most of them had, in fact, been evacuated.:

The caption reads:

“SOME OF THE HOUSES IN CORONATION STREET” Built between the two great wars, and therefore comparatively new, as age is assessed in terms of bricks and mortar. There are nearly 50, supported by great baulks of timber, like those shown above and bound together with iron rods. Two are empty, being quite uninhabitable, and in others ceilings are falling, windows cracking and doors refusing to function.”

If the the houses were built in a coronation year, “between the two great wars” they can only date from 1936 and were thus only thirteen years old at  the time of the newpaper photograph. There is a very short video available.  The title refers to “Swadlincote” which is the name of the local area:

Thirty, forty years after my Dad had left Hastings Road School. I went to Hastings Road to take some photographs of the school. Alas, the buildings were no longer there, and had clearly fallen victim to the subsidence that I knew had claimed so many local houses. I began to investigate but I couldn’t find anybody who knew for certain the true detailed story of the demise of Hastings Road  School. Perhaps one day, the beams arrived, and the next day, before they could be put into position, the whole school fell down. That must have cheered up all those “collier lads”. Here’s the school today. Today’s pavement would have been directly in front of the school’s front wall:

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Filed under Bomber Command, History, my Dad, Personal, Science

My best friend, Widdle (3)

Widdle was extremely photogenic, and didn’t he know it! Mind you, he does have such beautiful soft eyes……..

In the days when he had a wife and cubs to support, Widdle did his very best to be the perfect husband and the perfect Dad, but that didn’t mean that he never felt tired. Indeed he had a number of different places that he would use for a rest, and if it was sunny and warm, then so much the better.

If we weren’t at home when he came to call, he would graciously sit quietly and wait for us. Sometimes, he would get nice and comfortable in a large empty planter. Our garden is on two levels, and directly behind the planter there was a fifteen foot drop. It didn’t bother him, though. Widdle never seemed to have any fear of heights…….

When we went to say hello and to ask him what kind of a day he was having, Widdle wasn’t ever frightened.  He liked that lofty perch,  even though he was sitting with his back to any potential attackers. What he saw as the biggest plus point of that planter was the fact that he could immediately spot us as we emerged from the house with his sausages……

On other occasions he would sit like a dog, making sure that there were no rival male foxes on the lawn some twenty feet below:

At other times he seemed very cautious and preferred to sit in the foliage:

Occasionally, he would have his attention drawn by a noise he didn’t recognise:

His proudest moment, however, came when he showed off his new winter coat:

His fur was always at its most luxuriant in the winter, whehn he needed the extra warmth, of course. In summer, he would moult his coat and go around looking a lot more grey than red, and overall, extremely tatty. Picture 4 above illustrates the Punk Fox look perfectly, as does the one below…..

In this photograph Widdle is a little more advanced in his moult, and the grey tones to his fur are really obvious. This picture dates from a different day to Photograph 4, when he spent a sunny warm afternoon in the planter, and woke up so stiff that he needed a good stretch before he could even think of eating.

Having said that, just a few minutes warming up, and he was soon ready for his favourite food…….

 

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Filed under Humour, Nottingham, Personal, Widdle, Wildlife and Nature