Author Archives: jfwknifton

The place where I grew up, Woodville, in World War 2

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 used to be called Wooden Box because of the large wooden box occupied by the man who operated the toll gate on the toll road between Ashby de la Zouch and Burton-upon-Trent.  The name Woodville first appeared in 1845. Nowadays, there is a roundabout where his box used to be, although the location itself is still called “Tollgate”. Here’s an old postcard of the “Tollgate” :

My Dad, Fred, told me that the majority of the people in Woodville were pretty much unaware of the existence of World War Two. It had comparatively little impact in this mostly country area, where rationing was offset by the inhabitants’ ability to grow food for themselves, and even to raise their own pigs and chickens. Food, therefore, was relatively freely available, if not abundant, and the war seemed to be very distant. Woodville seemed to be an unchanging pastoral paradise:

The twenty year old Fred despised the comfortable lives of the older people in Woodville. They would live out their humdrum lives without any risk whatsoever, while he was laying his life on the line pretty much every single day in Bomber Command:

The contempt he had for the inhabitants of the village, though, was perhaps a measure of his own fear at being asked to fly over burning Bremen or Cologne, or some other heavily defended Bomber Command target :

Young men, of course, went away from Woodville and from time to time their parents were duly informed that they would never return:

It was only too easy, though, for others to view that profoundly sad process as similar to that of the young men who might have moved away from the village for reasons of employment, or even in order to emigrate to another country.

Occasionally, enemy aircraft would fly over Woodville, identifiable by their particular and peculiar engine noise. On one dark night, on November 14th 1940, many local people, Fred included, walked up to the Greyhound Inn near Boundary :

Everybody stood on the opposite side of the road from the public house and looked south. The view from that spot stretches thirty or forty miles or more into the southern Midlands

As they stood and looked, they were able to see the bright glow in the sky as Coventry burned, a city whose centre was almost completely destroyed by the Germans. There was, though, very little direct effect of German bombing on the local area around Woodville.

On one occasion, a Heinkel III night bomber, panicking about where he was, possibly pursued by a night fighter and perhaps worried that he might not make it back to the Fatherland, jettisoned all his bombs over the nearby village of Church Gresley. Look for “der fliegende orangefarbene Pfeil” :

The bombs all landed near Hastings Road, not far from the school where Fred would teach immediately after the war. They demolished an entire row of houses which backed onto Gresley Common, and all the inhabitants, almost thirty unfortunate people, were accidentally killed.

Years later, in the 1990s, Fred was able to explain these events to a man digging in the garden of his new townhouse, built recently on the site of the Second World War disaster. The man could not understand why the soil was so full of broken bricks, bath tiles and so many smithereens of old fashioned blue and white patterned crockery:

The only other direct connection with World War 2 was the unfortunate soldier and ex-prisoner-of-war who finally returned to Woodville in late 1945 or early 1946, having spent years as the unwilling guest of Emperor Hirohito, and the Japanese Imperial Army.

The poor man was unbelievably gaunt, and he had lost so much weight that his clothes flapped on his body like sails on a mast:

He did not receive as much sympathy as he might have done from the citizens of Woodville, though, when they found out that he had actually eaten snakes in his efforts not to starve to death. “Really ! Snakes ! ! ” Here’s snake soup, a delicacy in China but not as highly prized as bat and pangolin, apparently:

Fred, of course, had a view of such events very different from that of the average native of Woodville. Almost sixty years later, when I cleared out his house after his death, there was not a single Japanese electrical device to be found. Everything came from the factories of Philips in Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

 

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Filed under History, Personal, the Japanese, war crimes

The Fairies of Cornwall (8)

This post is a continuation  from Episode No 7…..

Mr Noy has wandered into the Land of the Fairies, where he meets Grace Hutchens who was his fiancée for several years. One day she was found dead on the moor. She thinks that she had a fit, and that when she was buried, her coffin contained merely a changeling, sent by the fairies.

A changeling, incidentally, is a child believed to have been secretly substituted by fairies for the parents’ real child in infancy.

While this was going on, the real Grace Hutchens had inadvertently wandered into the Land of the Fairies on the moor. While she was there, she bit into a plum and was therefore forced to remain with the Fairies as a  servant girl to tidy up, bake cakes and brew beer, clean their houses and nurse the changeling children. Grace says to her erstwhile fiancé….

“People believed that I was found dead on the moor. It was supposed that I must’ve had a fit, as I was subject to them. What was buried as me, however, was only a changeling, a sham body.”

Mr Noy wanted to know much more about these strange beings, and was about to inquire, when the fairies again called “Grace, Grace, why are you so long. Bring some drink quickly.” She hastily entered the house and at that moment it came into his head that he too would have some drink, disperse the small tribe of fairies and save Grace.

Knowing that any garment turned inside out and cast among the fairies would make them flee, and happening to put his hand into his coat pocket, he felt for the gloves that he had worn in the afternoon.

As quickly as he could, he turned one inside-out, put into it a small stone and threw it among them.

In an instant they all vanished with the house, Grace, and all the furniture. He just had time to glance around and saw nothing but bushes and the roofless walls of an old cottage:

Suddenly, Mr Noy received a blow on his forehead that knocked him down. He soon fell asleep and dozed away an hour or two…… or so he thought.

Those to whom Mr Noy related his story, said that he had learnt nothing new from Grace, for local people had always believed of the fairies such things as she had told him, and that none of the fairies liked to be seen by daylight because they then looked aged and grim. It was said too, that the fairies who take animal form get smaller and smaller with every change, until they are finally lost in the Earth as ants.

Mr Noy, now fully recovered from his adventure, further informed his neighbours that he had noticed, among the fairies, many who bore a sort of family likeness to people he knew, and he had no doubt that some of them were changelings of recent date. Other familiar faces were their forefathers who died in days of yore, when they were not good enough to be admitted into heaven, nor yet so wicked as to be doomed to the “worst of all places”.

The worst of all places was not, in fact, a football stadium, but Hell:

According to Mr Noy, the fairies pass the winter, for the most part, in underground habitations, entered from the huge granite outcrops on the moors. And it is held that many persons who appear to have died entranced are not really dead, but have been changed into fairies.

This is Carn Kenidjack near St Just. It is a completely natural rock formation, but the connection between granite outcrops and fairies is extended by many people, even nowadays, to include the numerous megalithic sites of western Cornwall. I have certainly met one farmer at a little village near Constantine who believed that if you went at dawn’s early light down from the farmhouse to the megalithic tomb, you would see the fairies dancing in the form of little tiny lights:

This is Pixie’s Hall Fogou near Bosahan Farm. A fogou is a kind of underground chamber whose purpose, after around four thousand years of thinking about it, we have not yet ascertained.

In similar fashion, the capstone of Chûn Quoit frequently plays host to the same kind of lights:

One footnote, incidentally, is that “the fairies who take animal form get smaller and smaller with every change, until they are finally lost in the Earth as ants”. The Cornish people have their own special name for ants which is “Muryans”. It comes from the Breton “merien” and Welsh “myrion”.

 

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Filed under Cornwall, Criminology, Cryptozoology, History, Literature, Personal, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

Alice in Wonderland (4)

When discussing Lewis Carroll, though, there are always issues which need to be dealt with, other than the quality of the books that he wrote, books which are surely among the best known, most widely translated and most familiar books in history. Have no fears. Alice will be outselling Harry Potter fifty to one in a hundred years’ time:

Whenever I have said how much I like that druggy golden afternoon, though, I am invariably assailed  by some deep thinker’s blunt statement “He was a paedophile”.

Well, as far as we know Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was not a paedophile, and as long as there is no documented proof, that is how it must stay. It is only too easy to throw stones at a man who died more than a century ago.

For me, the most important thing is to remember that the world of the 1860s, say, was very, very different from that of today.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

(LP Hartley in The Go-Between )

The sharp differences between 1860 and now will invariably be reflected in the relationships between a single man and single young girls or women. In 1860, for example, the minimum legal age for marriage, with the consent of the parents, was only twelve for a girl and merely fourteen for a boy. In the 1861 census, 175 women in Burnley had married at 15 or less. In Burnley, the figure was 179. The Orange Arrow points at Burnley and, an inch or so further on, at Bolton.

On that golden afternoon of Friday, July 4th 1862, Lorina Liddell was thirteen years old. Another year, and it would have been completely reasonable and wholly acceptable for young gentlemen to be calling round at her house to pay court to her.

Last time, I spoke about the sudden break in the relationship between the Liddells and Dodgson and the missing page in Dodgson’s diary. Supposedly it read:

“L.C. learns from Mrs. Liddell that he is supposed to be paying court to the governess—he is also supposed by some to be courting Ina”

At the same time though, there are plenty of biographers such as Morton N. Cohen who think that Dodgson merely wanted to marry Alice when a few years had passed. Alice Liddell’s biographer, Anne Clark, writes that Alice’s descendants were certainly under the impression that Dodgson wanted to marry her, but that “Alice’s parents expected a much better match for her.” Mrs Liddell, for example, was aiming rather high perhaps, at the somewhat gormless looking Prince Leopold of Belgium:

Such “spring and autumn marriages” as Dodgson and Alice would have been, were actually quite common. John Ruskin the leading English art critic of the Victorian era was looking at one point to marry a twelve year old girl, while Dodgson’s younger brother sought to marry a 14-year-old, although he eventually postponed the wedding for six years. This is what Dodgson might have done. Wait five years, say, until Alice was sixteen or seventeen, and marry her then, when Dodgson was thirty five or so. Hardly outrageous, even by the standards of today.

A general pattern emerges with these “spring and autumn marriages”. The man usually falls in love with the girl when she is between ten and twelve years of age, and they are then married by the time she is sixteen or eighteen. Sometimes the little girl falls in love, but this was a lot less common.

We often tend to forget that the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a teacher of mathematics at Oxford University and a deacon of the Anglican Church. Some colleagues knew him as a somewhat reclusive stammerer, but he was generally seen by everyone as a devout and serious scholar. One college dean said he was “pure in heart.”

Supposedly, Dodgson took around 3,000 photo­graphs in his life.

Supposedly 1500 are of children of whom only 30 are depicted nude or semi-nude. A great deal will depend on what is meant by “semi-nude”, of course. Here is Alice as “The Beggar”. Is she semi-nude? She is certainly not nude. All our attention is drawn, of course, to her enormous feet and weird toes:

Dodgson had the permission of both Liddell parents for this photograph and they were so pleased that they kept it in a beautiful Morocco leather case. Dodgson soon became so well thought of that he was invited to entertain two of the grandchildren of Queen Victoria herself.

Taking photographs of children was viewed in a very different way some 150-odd years ago. Here is the very sentimentalised, “The Prettiest Doll in the World”:

Victorians saw childhood as a state of grace; even nude photographs of children were considered pictures of innocence itself.

Such photographs of nude children sometimes appeared on postcards or birthday cards, and nude portraits—skilfully done—were praised as art studies.  Probably the most famous of society photographers at the time was Dodgson’s contemporary, Julia Margaret Cameron. As well as the rich, famous and beautiful, though, Cameron also took photographs such as” Nude child with hands folded” or “Venus Chiding Cupid And Removing His Wings “. Here she is, looking worryingly like a man, possibly even a man who has played 344 games of Rugby League for Wigan Warriors:

There was certainly no shortage of parents quite happy to have their children photographed nude by Dodgson, who was regarded as a top class photographer who had produced a large number of superb quality portraits of adults. And Dodgson was not the first Victorian to photograph nude children either. Wigan prop forward, Julia Margaret Cameron, among many others, predated him by at least three or four years. She was the most gifted artistically in this field. Dodgson’s nude photographs “by Victorian standards were, well, rather conventional.”

When he died, Dodgson left very few nude photographs behind him. As he grew old, he himself destroyed the majority of the negatives and prints of his nude studies. He asked the executors of his will to destroy any others that he had missed and this appears to have been done. This was not because the photographs were obscene. Every set of parents had already been given their own set of the photographs he took (and had posed no objections, in fact quite the opposite), so that was not the problem.

In 1881 he wrote to Mrs Henderson:

“Would you like to have any more copies of the full front photographs of the children? I intend to destroy all but one of each. That is all that I want for myself, and, though I consider them perfectly innocent in themselves, there is really no friend to whom I should wish to give photographs which so entirely defy conventional rules.”

The Hendersons (the father, incidentally, was a fellow of Wadham College, Oxford) had enormous  admiration for Dodgson’s work and were completely happy to for him to photograph their children nude. They left the children with him, unsupervised, and picked them up later. And there were no problems whatsoever.

Two families, the Hatches and the Hendersons, have passed down to us the only pictures we have which were taken by Dodgson of little girls in the nude. They were Beatrice Hatch, age 7, Evelyn Hatch, age 8, Ethel Hatch, age 9, Annie and Frances Henderson, ages 7 and 8. Anybody who finds them on the internet can see just how innocent they were, particularly in that world where:

“Victorians saw childhood as a state of grace; even nude photographs of children were considered pictures of innocence itself.”

The whole issue has perhaps been exacerbated by the fact that Dodgson died suddenly on January 14 1898. Before 1899 arrived, Dodgson’s nephew Stuart Collingwood wrote and had published, the biography of his uncle which contained two chapters on his friendships with little girls and yet no mention whatsoever of the many women that Dodgson counted among his friends:

Overall, my conclusion would be that the ball is very much in the court of the accusers. They have looked at Dodgson, a strange man admittedly, seen some of his photographs, and, without bothering to put them in the context of the age, cried “Foul”! It is now up to them to come up with irrefutable proof, something which nobody has done in over 120 years.

And don’t be fooled by the way, by the fake photograph of Alice supposedly kissing Dodgson. And above all, a full frontal of a young girl of fourteen or fifteen, supposed to be Lorina,  found in a French museum. Again, the burden of truth is on the museum is to prove its veracity.

And don’t forget, it wasn’t that many years ago that a French museum claimed to have found the real Beast of Gévaudan in its stuffed animal section.

They explained that they had “lost it”.

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Bomber Harris, not a happy man (7)

Mainly because Harris was in charge only of Bomber Command and not of any of the various other civil service departments that he dealt with, there were continued and repeated failures to produce a variety of the equipment which was needed to fight the war effectively. In his book, “The Relentless Offensive” by Roy Irons, he discusses the most important examples of the many failures by the Ministry of Supply:

As we have seen, they included the aluminised bomb, the 0·50 machine gun, the cluster bomb and the high proportion of ordinary bombs which failed to explode on contact with the target. Such failures were so frequent, that Harris said that a huge number of the civil service departments should all have the motto “Non possumus”  (“We can’t do that.”).

The most basic problem was that the proportion of warriors “at the sharp end” continued to decline throughout the war, as an increasingly large number of fairly useless and largely impotent civil service departments exerted their enormous influence on events. As the author says:

“The tail, in Bomber Command’s war, was wagging the dog, and often forgetting the dog altogether in its own day to day programme.”

Just look at the contrast between the American “Can-do” and the English “Non possumus”. In the USA, the prototype for the P-51 fighter was produced one day early,  after only 119 days. Imagine that. Somebody sharpens his pencil to start working on the design of a new aircraft, and 17 weeks later, it’s off down the runway on its maiden flight:

For the 0·50 machine gun, the British Civil Service Armament Department gave an estimate of 15 years before it could be brought into use. And the cluster bombs of fifty or a hundred 4lb incendiaries, in actual fact, never did appear. If they had, Bomber Command might have been able to fulfil the macabre prophecy of Albert Speer, “The Nice Nazi”, after the firestorm had destroyed Hamburg in July 1945:

“Six more like that and all war production will come to a total halt.”

Hamburg was devastated by the inadvertent creation of a fire storm, the first ever produced by the RAF:

There were to be only two more. They were, if my memory serves me well, Dresden and Darmstadt. Who knows to what extent the war might have been shortened had Harris had access to cluster bombs of incendiaries? How many fewer casualties would the RAF  have had? And how many fewer Germans overall would have died? And where would Stalin’s hordes have got to? Minsk?

Perhaps even more deplorable was the frequency with which British bombs failed to detonate. Around 20% of bombs were “flat strikes”, which means that they quite simply didn’t go off. For most of them, it was because, as they fell, their fins were supposed to make them spin, and this spinning would arm the bombs so that they would explode on contact with the ground. Except that very often, far too often, no spin meant no bang ! Presumably these are the hundreds of “unexploded bombs” which are still found on a regular basis all over Germany on a regular basis:

Every time the Germans try to construct an urban motorway or lay the foundations for a skyscraper of some kind, they seem to unearth a few more. And the tragedy is, of course, that these WW2 duds are still continuing to kill or maim the completely innocent and enormously brave young Germans who are tasked with defusing them.

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The Fairies of Cornwall (7)

Last time, in Part 6, we were discussing the apparent abduction of Mr Noy, and his being found five or six days later, very close to his own farm, although he did not recognise where he was. There is an alternative version of the story which tells the abduction story from Mr Noy’s point of view:

“Mr Noy told his neighbours that when he had reached the village of Ludgvan, the night being clear, he thought he would take a shortcut across the moor and save nearly a mile, instead of going all the way round by the stony path.”

Here’s a map where the orange arrow indicates “Ludgvan” and down in the south west is St. Buryan, generally recognised nowadays as Cornwall’s capital of witchcraft:

Mr Noyes’ horse, however, which was used to finding his own way when his rider was drunk, preferred the usual route by the stony path, and Mr Noy was forced to pull him towards the opposite side of the common.

He then found himself in an area that was unknown to him, although he had been, or so he thought, over every single inch of the common both in winter and summer. Alarmed at the strange appearance of everything around him, he tried in vain to retrace his steps. Not knowing what to do, he let the horse take its own course. Yet instead of proceeding homeward, the horse took Mr Noy to a strange land so crowded with trees that he had to dismount and lead his horse. He wandered  for miles and miles, sometimes riding but more often on foot, never seeing any habitation at all.  It was a strange, unknown place, which he believed must be outside his own parish, but in which other parish he couldn’t tell. At last he heard lively music and saw lights glimmering through the trees.

People were moving about, which made him hope that he had arrived at some farm where they were having a harvest festival and the farm labourers, after supper, were dancing in the town square.

The dogs hung back, and the horse didn’t want to go on, so he tied it to a tree, and walked through an orchard towards the lights. He came to a meadow where he saw hundreds of people.

Some were seated at table, eating and drinking. Others were dancing to the music of a tambourine. This was played by a young lady dressed all in white who was standing only a few feet from him.

He looked at her closely and was surprised to see that the young lady was none other than Grace Hutchens, a farmer’s daughter. She had been his sweetheart for a long time, but she had died four years ago. At least he had mourned her as dead and she had been buried in the local churchyard.

She turned closely towards him and said, “Thank the stars, dear William! I have come to stop you being changed into the fairy state that I am in. Woe is me!”

He tried to kiss her. “Beware”, she exclaimed, “Embrace me not. Touch not the flowers nor the fruit. Eating a plum from this enchanted orchard was my undoing.

You may think it’s strange, but it was because of my love for you that I came to this.

People believed that I was found dead on the moor. It was supposed that I must’ve had an epileptic  fit, as I was subject to them. What was buried as me, however, was only a changeling, a sham body. It was not me for I feel much the same now as when I was alive.”

Grace then told the story of how she herself had been ensnared.

“One evening, I was out on the moor looking for stray sheep, when I heard what I thought was you whistling to your dogs, so I went towards the sound to try to meet you. I got lost, though, under ferns higher than my head. I wandered on for hours among pools and bogs without knowing where I was going.”

After rambling many miles, as it seemed to her, Grace waded a stream and entered an orchard. Then she heard music and walked towards it. She passed into a beautiful garden with roses and beautiful flowers that she had never seen before. Apples and other tempting fruits dropped onto the paths or hung overhead.

This garden was so surrounded with trees and water that, like one led by the fairies, all her efforts to find a way out were in vain. The music too seemed very close at times but she could see nobody.

Weary and thirsty, she picked a plum, that looked golden in the starlight. Her lips no sooner closed on the fruit than it dissolved to bitter water which made her faint. Then she fell to the ground in a fit and became unconscious. She didn’t how long it was before she woke up to find herself surrounded by hundreds of fairies who made great efforts to get her to remain among them. They had very much wanted a servant girl to tidy up, someone who could bake and brew, one would clean their houses and nurse the changeling children who were never as strong as they used to be, for want of beef and good malt liquor, so they said.

Grace told Mr Noy how at first she was sickened by the fairies’ bland food of honey and berries. Her stomach had felt so watery and she often longed for some salt fish.

The only good thing was goats’ milk,

“For you know,” she said, “that goats are often seen on moors among the rock outcrops and in other wild places miles from houses. They are lured away by the fairies to feed the babies and changelings. There are sometimes twenty goats here. A cunning billy goat often comes among the farm goats but then disappears with the best milkers. He is a decoy, just a fairy in goat form.”

A “changeling” is a child believed to have been secretly substituted by fairies for the parents’ real child in infancy. Bottrell does not offer any explanation of why they do this. I suspect he had none.

I do suspect, though, that, if tales were told of changelings nowadays, we would soon begin to suggest that they were cases of alien abduction, carried out to extract sufficient genetic material to create perfect doubles, whose purpose is, at the moment, completely unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Two)

We have just finished publishing my new book “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”. This is the second book of five, and tells about some more of the High School’s long forgotten casualties in World War II. Here is the front cover, with the shorter title and nine new pictures to look at:

And here is the blurb from the back cover:

“This is the second of five books commemorating the ultimate sacrifice made by the brightest young men of Nottingham in the Second World War. After six years of ground-breaking research, John Knifton has uncovered over 100 forgotten war heroes, men who served their country in countless ways. All of them had one thing in common: they spent their boyhood years at Nottingham High School.

This book does not glorify the deaths of these men; but instead builds a monument to the unfinished lives they sacrificed for our freedom today. John Knifton conjures up the ghost of these men’s forgotten lives: their childhoods, families, homes, neighbourhoods, and the loved ones they left behind. You will discover their boyhood hobbies and their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. Most of all, you will find all the previously unknown details of the conflicts they fought in and how they met their untimely ends.

John Knifton’s project puts the humanity back into history, set against the backdrop of the Nottingham of yesteryear. No tale untold. No anecdote ignored.”

This book is now available for purchase through Lulu.com:

https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/john-knifton/in-the-footsteps-of-the-valiant-the-lives-and-deaths-of-the-forgotten-heroes-of-nottingham-high-school-volume-two/paperback/product-176j6pwm.html

The book has 332 pages and is “Crown Quarto”, that is to say, 189 mms x 246 mm (7.44 inches x 9.68 inches). The book contains just under 150,000 words and can therefore be compared with books such as “Sense and Sensibility”(119K), “A Tale of Two Cities”(135K) “The Return of the King”(137K), 20,000 Leagues under the Sea” (138K), “Oliver Twist” (156K) and “The Two Towers” (156K).

It tells the tale of 26 Old Nottinghamians, including, as in Volume 1, a young man who died shortly after the end of the war. In this case, he was called Patrick Russell Ward. He was killed during RAF service in the 1950s and deserves to be remembered.

Here are the names of the young men who perished in World War II:

William Donald Birkett, George Renwick Hartwell Black, Henry Brener, Henry Abington Disbrowe, Dennis Peter Fellows, Frank Freeman, Albert Hayes, John Neville Hickman, Gordon Frederick Hopewell, Eric John Hughes, Arthur Reeson Johnson, Richard Henry Julian, John Michael Preskey Ley, John Ambrose Lloyd, Edwin William Lovegrove, John Richard Mason, Geoffrey Leonard Mee, Ernest Millington, Robert Percy Paulson, George Green Read, Alan Robert Rose, Gordon Percy Carver Smith, Ernest Adam Wagstaff, Patrick Russell Ward, John Roger West, Carl Robert Woolley.

One of the High School’s ex-masters died trying to delay the German advance at Dunkirk:

A young cricketer’s ship hit a mine off Malta:

One  Old Nottinghamian rower was claimed by paratyphoid on the banks of the River Brahmaputra. Another was killed by nightfighters in his Stirling bomber over Berlin. A third died in a Lancaster bomber over the Dortmund-Ems Canal.  Another, a good rugby player, was killed in a Halifax over the Waddensee.

Accidents took others, at Coniston Water, and at Topcliffe in North Yorkshire. One Stirling took off and flew away into history. It was never heard of again. One man was killed at El Alamein. Another died as the Rhine was crossed in 1945, one of 1,354,712 men involved in the battle. Another young man, a cricketer and a pilot instructor, was killed at Assinboia in Saskatchewan:

Alas, one poor individual was killed after the end of the war, out on army manoeuvres on Lüneburg Heath on May 26th 1945.

Another had been Marconi’s greatest helper. One young man was killed in the savage fighting around  Villers-Bocage and Lisieux, as the Allies left the beaches and moved to the north east and Nazi Germany:

One young man from Woodthorpe died of peritonitis when the regimental doctor applied the rule he had been given: “All enlisted men are lead swinging liars. They have never got any of the diseases that they say they have”:

And last, but certainly not least, one poor man was the victim of one of the most disgusting cover-ups in British military history, as his parents both went to their graves thinking he had been killed fighting on the beaches of Normandy, when in actual fact, he and all his colleagues had all been accidentally killed by the Royal Navy just outside Portsmouth:

And they all had their personalities, their hobbies and their lives. Playing cricket on the beautiful walled ground at Grantham where a huge supermarket now stands. Taking part in barrel jumping competitions at Nottingham’s brand new ice rink. Playing the bugle in the OTC band:

Rowing for the school in the race when they went through the wrong arch of Trent Bridge and finished second instead of first:

He might operate as a powerful and dangerous forward at rugby, but he will be remembered for playing a “prominent part” in the team’s festive occasions, reciting the monologues of Stanley Holloway, the famous northern comedian. Another First XV player was damned by Mr Kennard’s faint praise in the School Magazine:

“Has hardy fulfilled his promise. A steady player, however.”

And then to every one of the 26 comes sudden death, always unexpected at any given moment, but no real surprise when it came. And every one of those young heroes, to be honest, could have had the same obituary as that of the gentle giant, Ernest Adam Wagstaff:

“He died, as he had lived, for an ideal; in the lives of the few who knew him well his passing leaves a void which can never be filled.”

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, France, History, Nottingham, The High School

Bomber Harris, not a happy man (6)

In his excellent book, “The Relentless Offensive: War and Bomber Command”, Roy Irons is not slow to reveal the fact that it was absolutely typical of the attitudes of the RAF in the 1920s and 1930s to have carried out absolutely no research whatsoever on new bombs for the any future war. No attempts whatsoever were made to produce a very large bomb of a very high standard that would do the enemy very real harm. Instead, bombs, quite simply, did not ever change and new aircraft were designed just to accommodate the old bombs rather than to carry a four thousand pounder, an eight thousand pounder or even a twelve thousand pounder, bombs which were  actually quite simple to produce. Here is the 4,000lb “cookie”:

And the 8,000 lb cookie, made by joining two 4,000 pounders together, with a large spanner and a few nuts and bolts:

And the 12,000 pounder “cookie”, produced in pretty much the same way:

Thin skinned and full of high explosive, this was one of the earliest “blast bombs”. None of the three would fit into any of the old bombers without modifications.

Here are the old style bombs being put into the bomb bay of an antiquated Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. Even the tractor looks tired:

The real issue, though, was the incorporation of aluminium into the explosive mix of British WW2 bombs. The addition of aluminium as a fuel for the explosion really makes things go with a bang, as you might say. The Germans knew all about this, and all of their bombs contained aluminium, and could be up to 80% fiercer than a British bomb of the same size.

Harris was continually incensed about the way different groups in the civil service and the armed forces would rather fight each other, than the enemy. This statement is totally typical of Harris’ opinion of civil servants:

“individuals in civil service departments seem to be fighting a different war, if indeed they are fighting a war at all.”

The aluminium in bombs is a fine example. The Royal Navy had known all about it since the beginning of the First World War in 1914. So had the army, who used aluminium based explosives to blow up Messines Ridge in 1917. In this case it was ammonal:

But neither they nor the Navy had bothered to tell the fledgling RAF, perhaps because they wanted to cause the new force harm in any way possible. Harris complained of the:

“failure of communication between departments responsible for strategy, for raw materials and for research”.

As far as the latter is concerned, by the second and third years of the war, there was such a shortage of aluminium that the RAF was unable to carry out hardly any research at all. Only by late 1943 and 1944 were aluminised bombs being dropped over the Reich. Churchill himself said that it was all the fault of the Static Detonations Committee. Their role, admitted Churchill, the Prime Minister, was

“More static than detonating”.

Exactly the same kind of problems with lazy, self centred civil servants was encountered with incendiary bombs. Four million incendiaries were dropped per month, but completely separately. Falling from four or five miles up, but weighing only four pounds, they could fly or glide literally miles from the target. There was absolutely no control over them:

The problem was that a cluster bomb of some kind was needed. A weapon that would weigh perhaps 12,000lbs and contain 3,000 incendiary bombs. It would be dropped from 20,000 feet and release all of its little fireflies at 5,000 feet. Harris asked again and again for the weapon to be developed but by May 8th 1945, the government departments had done absolutely nothing and cluster bombs of this type were never used during WW2. Nowadays they are banned by the majority of countries:

 

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“In the Footsteps of the Valiant” : Volume One : the Verdict (2)

As I said a couple of days ago when I was talking about Volume One of “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”, I had hoped to portray the High School’s war dead as real human beings rather than just a surname and a set of initials in a very long list of names. That is why I tried so very hard to unearth a great number of tiny details which I hoped would help to portray them all as rounded young men rather than just a couple of lines in the School List:

Some of them I could only present as adults because there were no photographs of them as boys.

Alfred Chenhalls was the personal friend and accountant of Leslie Howard, “The Man Who Gave a Damn”. He had lived at 2 Hamilton Drive in The Park, his family occupying the whole house, not just a flat as it would be nowadays:

Edwin Thomas Banks lived at No 7 Rutland Road in West Bridgford. As I discovered from his squadron’s log book, he was killed flying his Gloster Gladiator biplane into Lake Ioannina in Greece. He was buried with a full military funeral and a large number of Greek Generals in attendance. As one of his friends said: “coldest wait ever.”  At school, Edwin had been a keen rower: “Not very heavy but a hard worker. He sits the boat well. There was a noticeable improvement in the Second Crew when he stroked it. Although he has a good beginning he is still rather short.” As well as short, he is also rather blurred in the only picture I could find of him :

Howard Rolleston Simmonds lived at 28 Nottingham Road in Bingham. He went to Canada to learn to fly, one of the 131,533 aircrew who graduated successfully from that enormous country, including the best part of fifty thousand pilots. Howard was sent to help look for a missing aeroplane, a Lockheed Hudson which had been lost off the coast of Nova Scotia. He was the pilot of an Avro Anson I, 652A, with a serial number of W1754. He and his crew just flew off and were never seen again and no wreck has ever been found. Here he is in uniform, proudly displaying his wings:

And here he is sitting in his Anson:

John Harold Gilbert Walker was a Spitfire pilot who was shot down over northern France in 1941. The objective was the railway marshalling yards at Hazebrouck on the outskirts of Dunkirk and four squadrons of Spitfires, including Nos 118 and 457, were escorting just six Douglas Boston Mark III bombers. He was already a veteran of the Battle of Britain, flying a Bristol Blenheim nightfighter:

Keith Henry Whitson served in India with the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. He survived the war only to perish at Pindi-Khut eight months or so after the end of hostilities. Interestingly, Pindi-Khut seems to have disappeared from the map since World War Two. Again, the only photograph I could get hold of is not particularly sharp :

William Ray Llewellyn from “Torisdale” in Devon Drive in Sherwood and then 136 Melton Road in West Bridgford. He appeared in two school plays. In the first, he played a young woman in “The Admirable Crichton” by JM Barrie. He really was damned by faint praise: “The rest of the cast was quite adequate. I have no criticisms of WR Llewellyn as a Lady’s Maid.”

In what is now pretty much a forgotten play, “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” by Beaumont and Fletcher, he played one of the three Gentlemen who made up “The Spectators”. The overall verdict in the School Magazine was that: “the School play delighted me and many others too. The performance began in the most striking way, with three spot lit Elizabethan cavaliers coming right from the back of the hall up on to the stage. Llewellyn, Marchmont and Rowbotham were realistically discourteous spectators, and throughout their long period on the stage made the most of their restricted opportunities……. William’s little brother, Peter George Llewellyn, also had a rôle in the play. Looking tiny, he played three bit parts, Ralph’s Boy, the Soldier and the Dancer.”

Here he is :

The four actors are Russell Cruddas Lansberry, young Peter, Derrick John Turner and RN Walker (no such person) according to one page of the School Magazine and Robert Norman Walters according to the next page.

And little Peter got an excellent review: “Their fellow dancer, PG Llewellyn, shared their good delivery and confidence. As Ralph’s boy, he played his part with humour; as a pikeman he was certainly a menace.”

Again, the picture of his elder brother, William Ray Llewellyn, required a lot of work on Photoshop and is still very poor:

William went to meet his maker in what was then called Ceylon, a place he clearly adored:

“I beheld the dawn yesterday. Not from the foothills of the Himalayas, not even from the more prosaic bedroom window but from the cockpit of an Avenger bomber flying over Ceylon. We had all scrambled whilst it was still dark. The air was still and not a bump disturbed our passage.”

My team and I put a great deal of time into designing the cover. I don’t know if anybody looked at the photographs very carefully but they were all chosen carefully and with a definite link to an Old Nottinghamian in mind. There was a Handley Page Halifax:

There was a Bridge Too Far :

All of a RAF base’s airmen walking back to the Mess after a raid :

Here, Iranian women sit and watch British lorries invade their country with minimal opposition from the Iranian Army and a great deal of co-operation from the Soviet Army :

The most beautiful aeroplane ever built, the saviour of our country, and arguably, the world.

A T-class destroyer of the Royal Navy :

Here’s the return from Dunkirk :

And here’s a Wellington crew just back from Germany.

And this is the war in the North African desert, a location visited by a good many Old Nottinghamians with both the Sherwood Foresters and the South Notts Hussars:

 

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“In the Footsteps of the Valiant” : Volume One : the Verdict (1)

I must admit that initially I was a little disappointed with the sales of my first volume of  “In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume One)” :

I soon realised, though, that money was not important because I had achieved exactly what I had intended to do.

I had discovered as many hitherto unknown war dead from the High School as I was likely to, increasing previous lists by up to forty new names. I had found a number of men who had died serving their country but who, because they were not killed while “on active service”, gun in hand, had been largely ignored up till now.

I had also succeeded in finding out a large number of tiny details which I hoped would help to portray all of these valiant men as real human beings rather than just a surname and initials in a very long list of names.

In this first volume of five, the men concerned were John Edwin Armitage, Francis Nairn Baird, Edwin Thomas Banks, Philip Mackenzie Britton, Warren Herbert Cheale, Alfred Tregear Chenhalls, Paul Wilson Cherry, Walter Raymond Julyan Hoyte, Charles Davy Hudson, Robert Renwick Jackson, William Roy Llewellyn, Anthony Bertram Lloyd, Ian Mactaggart MacKirdy, Bruce Arthur Richardson, Wilfrid Henry Vivian Richiardi, Sidney Moger Saxton, Clifford Frank Shearn, Howard Rolleston Simmonds, Philip Bonnington Smith, Richard Christopher Sowerbutts, John Harold Gilbert Walker, Alfred Highfield Warren, Keith Henry Whitson and John Jeffrey Catlin.

I realised that I had succeeded in what I was trying to do when I received a most encouraging comment from an Old Nottinghamian, Richard Edwards:

“I used to see the names of these young men on the War Memorial at school, but I never properly made the link to them as people that had real lives, with successes and failures like the rest of us. John Knifton has done a great job to honour these men, but also to make others think about them as individuals who had the same hopes that we all do. A fantastic effort – well done – and I thoroughly recommend it to other potential readers.”

When I asked Mr Edwards for permission to use his comment in a blog post, he gave me an even more glowing reference:

“I think that you have done an astounding job, not just in gathering the facts, but in allowing us to see the list of dead as young men with personalities and as people that we could have known, could have laughed with and could have grown up alongside. What a great way of properly honouring those people.

I wish you all the best, and congratulations on doing something so important.”

And that is the reason that I included everybody’s examination results, where they lived, what kind of area it was, not nowadays, but back in the day, as our American friends say. And to that can be added every detail I could glean from a number of very large books, from twenty or so Directories of Nottingham by Kelly, White and Wright and from the entire internet, from Ethiopia to Paraguay.

And all that has helped to discover a little more about the boys who had reached the end of their school years with perhaps only five or ten years of their young lives remaining. In some cases only two or three.

Alfred Warren of 166, Derby Road, Nottingham. He was the son of a grocer and a superb female impressionist in school plays:

“The School stage has rarely been graced by a more charmingly seductive figure than the Anna Waleska of AH Warren.”

A year later:

“His part did not allow him this year the opportunity to display those feminine wiles of whichhe has shown himself so complete a master, but his expression, now wheedling, now indifferent, was no less successful in enticing the unfortunate victim into her trap. Perhaps he tended to overdo that half crouching feline posture but nevertheless, clad in exquisite garments, he contrived to overcome the artificialities and discrepancies of Lady Ciceley’s rôle, and for that achievement alone he deserves high praise.”

Bruce Arthur Richardson, who lived on Edwards Lane, in the big house diagonally opposite Oxclose Lane Police Station. In his school play, “Twelfth Night”, he

“became the very model of idiocy. His voice was a masterpiece: no voice could be more completely asinine. His continual foolish mien, with mouth agape, doltish wonderment in his eyes, no less than occasional inspired brilliance of acting–such as the windmill gestures which accompanied his threat to beat Viola “like a dog”– helped to make his part a pleasing success”.

John Harold Gilbert Walker of 787 Mansfield Road. As soon as he left the High School John applied for entrance to Sandhurst in an effort to become an officer in the Army, his dream job for many, many years. He was rejected.

His personal tutor wrote: “A sound fellow, with great keenness in OTC. Desirous of entering the Army as a career, but prevented by lack of means.”

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Keith Henry Whitson of Wensley Road, one of the six roads which share the amazing roundabout on Thackeray’s Lane in Arnold. His father was Frank H Whitson who gave his job for the School Register as a “Branch Manager”. His mother was Dot Whitson, short, presumably, for “Dorothy”. Killed after the war’s end, Keith is buried in Rawalpindi War Cemetery in distant Pakistan:

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What would you do ? (6) 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:

” The soldier knew that the altar in a church usually faces east…looking towards Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ.  With this knowledge he decided to take a chance and get his bearings from the altar’s position. After that it was simple. If he faced the altar, then the north was to his left and the south was to his right. Before night fell, he was safe and sound back behind his lines.”

I’m happy with that, but I’m just trying to think if there are any other easy ways of establishing the cardinal points. The longest axis of a church is west-east and the wall without a door, thanks to the Northmen aka the Vikings, is the Northern one. The people in graves in a churchyard will rise up toward the east. Muslim graves too, face east.

There must be others. I know there’s one about moss on trees but I can’t think what it means. Do you know any others?

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