Category Archives: Africa

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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Shaka Zulu (3)

Last time, I finished by mentioning how the regiments of the Zulu army were distinguished by differently coloured shields and the number of marks on them. Shields might be brown, white or black and might have black spots, brown spots, white spots or no spots at all. Here’s a display in a South African museum:

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It occurred quite frequently that the Zulus would use the captured shields of their enemies as a ruse, causing confusion or even panic among the ranks of their adversaries. Chaka actually owned his own army’s warshields, the isihlangu, and they were handed out only in times of war. Men were punished for losing them.

Years later, when the Zulus were fighting the Boers,  Bongoza, a General in the Zulu army of King Dingane, even showed his men how to hide behind their shields and pretend to be grazing cattle.

Funnily enough, that was actually the only innovative idea that I came across that did not come from Chaka, the most brilliant military thinker ever in  sub-Saharan Africa. I found this coloured version of what is usually a black and white illustration of him on the internet:

Chaka was the one, for example, who changed his men’s diet, having them consume a fairly constant mixture of beef and cereal porridge. The existence of a new, fitter, stronger, army, would, of course, ultimately create more wars, but at the same time it would allow free access to further supplies of beef and cereals from the territories of the conquered tribes.

I don’t know if this dietary régime really did keep the Zulus leaner, fitter and more able to march long distances but that was the widely held belief among non-Zulus in Natal and Zululand in the 19th century. The problem, of course, was that the Zulus themselves left no written accounts and that all we have to go on are the accounts of one or two white traders such as Francis Farewell and Henry Fynn. And any books written by men who merely want to make money, of course, tend to exaggerate, just to make even more money.

For that reason, we shall never know for certain just how bloodthirsty and crazy Chaka was after his mother, Nandi, died on October 10th 1827. Did he really order every Zulu mother-to-be to be executed? Did he really seek out more than 7,000 people who were not sufficiently grief stricken and have them all killed? And even more crazily, did he really have every cow with a calf to be killed so that their offspring would all know exactly what it felt like when your mother died?

Only written records from an unbiased source can tell us such things. We are, for the same reason, still unsure about how far a Zulu regiment, an impi, could  run in a day. In 1879 the whites firmly believed that the answer to that question was FIFTY miles. It is even quoted in the film “Zulu”.

South African historian, John Laband, however, thought the idea was ridiculous. He gave 12 miles per day as the absolute maximum with only nine miles per day as the normal distance.
A very similar example would be the use of sandals by Zulu warriors. In the absence of written records, it has been handed down over the years that in order to toughen his warriors’ feet, Chaka had them stop wearing sandals and then any who refused were executed. Nowadays, we just don’t know if that is true or false.

Modern Zulus, especially the politicians, wear spotless, bright, white trainers. Their followers  frequently wear very brightly coloured jeans and carry golf umbrellas :

Some other aspects of bygone Zulu life we do know about through photographs. Across the world, many kings wear crowns. Zulu kings were slightly different and we have photographs from the nineteenth century to prove it. Here is King Cetshwayo:

He is wearing an “isiCoco”, an emblem of rank in pre-colonial days, meaning variously “the king”, “married man” or “warrior”, depending on the person wearing it. It was originally made from a mixture of beeswax, charcoal and snake skin, the latter being a symbol of African royalty and kingship. Warriors would wear leopard skin, because that was the animal they usually hunted. Nowadays, the isiCoco is made more easily, perhaps, by twisting a fibre ring into the hair. The ring has been covered in charcoal and gum and then polished with beeswax.

One final Zulu speciality weapon was the “knobkerrie”, a type of club with a large knob at one end. It can be thrown at the enemy like a javelin, or at animals while out hunting, or it can be used to club an enemy at close quarters. Sometimes it was used in stick fights as young boys practiced their combat techniques. In the Zulu language, it is called an “iwisa” and nowadays is not considered a weapon.

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I have always been fascinated by the Zulus. As a little boy, I was an avid reader of books by H Rider Haggard. It began when “Allan Quartermain” was given to me as a Christmas present, and then I bought “King Solomon’s Mines” and “She” with my pocket money. I was entranced by the heroic Zulu warrior, Umslopogaas, who appears in “Allan Quartermain” and in its sequel “Nada the Lily” a book unique in the nineteenth century in that all of its characters are black. Absolutely remarkable for that era.

I even tried to learn some Zulu phrases, but I never really had the chance to use the phrase “Kill the white wizards” so I soon forgot it. In actual fact, the only one I do still remember is “Amba gachlé ” which means “Go in peace”. Not a bad phrase to be the only one you know.

Here’s Umslopogaas :

 

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In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Five) Finished at last !!!

Well, it has finally happened. After something like eight years of research and writing up, the fifth and final volume of “In the Footsteps of the Valiant” is complete and published and ready to be purchased…….

I have always said that my main intention was to get away from a list of war casualties which was just a surname and a set of initials displayed on a wall. I wanted to portray the High School’s war dead as young men with, perhaps, wives, families, houses, jobs, and, above all, their own lives to lead. Lives which they were prepared to sacrifice in the cause of freedom, to stop a madman whose crazed ideas would have transformed the entire world into his very own vale of tears.

No less an intention was the idea of trying to establish, once and for all, just how many war casualties the High School had. From around eighty, I have now pushed the number up to around 120.  Volume Five contains the detailed story of 22 High School casualties of World War Two, along with two men who gave their lives for their country during the following decade. And don’t forget, incidentally, that all five volumes have been deliberately constructed to contain the same amount of material as all of the others. Furthermore, that material is, overall, of the same quality as all the other volumes. No single book is full of exciting stories of derring-do, at the expense of another volume devoid of all excitement. I took great care to make that the case.

The men concerned in Volume 5 are :

Thomas Arthur Bird, Douglas Arthur Burgass, John Stuart Burnside, George Vernon Carlin, Frank Leonard Corner, George Edward Dance, John Arthur Finking, Bernard William Grocock, George Norman Hancock, Lewis Alan Hofton, John Mayo, Arthur Mellows, Roy Faulkner Newell, Herbert Temple Nidd, John Ebblewhite Paling, William Palmer, Peter Frederick Paulson, Ivan Roy James Perkins, Kenneth Walter Sansom, William Henry Shaw, John Aubrey Starkey, Leslie Hambleton Taylor, Peter Vernon and Ian Leslie Wilkinson.

Here are Messrs Frank Corner, the First XI cricket team scorer, John Mayo, First XV player, Arthur Mellows, First XI cricketer, and Peter Paulson, of 277 Battery (City of Nottingham) 68 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, killed by enemy fire as the Germans captured Tobruk.

Frank Corner:

John Mayo:

Arthur Mellows

And Peter Paulson

And here is Bernard William Grocock, shot down by Oberleutnant Helmut Lent of 6/Nachtgeschwader 1, the second greatest night fighter ace of all time.

John Aubrey Starkey, killed at HMS Bambara in Ceylon, as he flew his Grumman Hellcat fighter :

And Ian Leslie Wilkinson, First XV rugby player and First XI cricketer :

And Herbert Temple Nidd, surely the most colourful Old Nottinghamian of them all, a man who worked on every single one of the great North Atlantic liners of the 1930s, and whose understanding of the rule “Only one wife at a time” seems to have have been woefully deficient. And that may well go for his father, too.

They died in many different places. In the Denmark Strait, facing the Bismarck. In an Italian prison camp. Fighting Rommel in Tunisia. Shot by guerillas in Ethiopia. In the Netherlands, clearing the Scheldt Estuary of Germans. Crossing the Rhine only weeks from the end of the war. And in aircraft. Over Duisburg in a Lancaster. In a Gloster Meteor. In a Whitley over Staffordshire. In a Whitley over Berlin.  In a Liberator over Tripoli in Libya. And most interesting, the POW who died, or was perhaps murdered, on his “Long March”, as, in 1945, the Germans marched their prisoners hundreds of miles westwards in deep snow, away from the Russians. What a tale he had to tell. Other men from his camp had been stationed right next to Auschwitz and had watched carefully what the Germans were doing. Alas, had he survived, he might well have added his testimony to the prosecution’s case.

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I also discovered the only direct remembrance left behind by any of our Old Nottinghamians. Peter Vernon died at the age of 23 from an illness contracted in the North Atlantic on H.M. Motor Minesweeper 260. Battered ceaselessly by extra strong winds and freezing rain, Peter probably died in the Invergordon Royal Navy Auxiliary Hospital in northern Scotland. Before he went off to war, his father had already told him of his plan to rename their butcher’s shop, “A.Vernon & Son High Class Butcher”. A huge new sign was painted on the side of the building. Perhaps it was going to be a surprise when Peter came home on leave, although it certainly didn’t work out like that. Alas, we will never know.

What we can do, though, is to go to Ilkeston Road in Nottingham, and, at its junction with Stansfield Street, see the sign, which is still there. The only part of Peter Vernon’s life still remaining alive in our world……………………..

 

Any royalties generated by these books will be split between “ABF The Soldiers’ Charity” and the Royal Air Forces Association.

Let’s finish with two poems.

One by Keith Doncaster of Maples’ House and the Fifth Form:

“Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.”

And one, almost a thousand years older, from Wace, slightly altered:

“Eventually

All things decline

Everything falters, dies and ends

Towers cave in, walls collapse

Roses wither, horses stumble

Cloth grows old, men expire

Iron rusts and timber rots away

Nothing made by hand will last.

I understand the truth

That all must die, both clerk and lay

And the fame of men now dead

Will quickly be forgotten,

Unless the clerk takes up his pen

And brings their deeds to life again

 

I say and will say that I am

John Knifton from the City of Nottingham”

 

 

 

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Shaka Zulu (2)

Last time, I introduced you to Shaka kaSenzangakhona (1787–1828). The Black Napoleon. The greatest military commander in African history. The man who revolutionised warfare on the veldt of Zululand. Shaka, or indeed, Chaka. Either spelling is apparently acceptable.

Chaka was no fool. As the Romans had realised two thousand years previously, he soon worked out that the throwing assegai could be thrown straight back at you. He favoured the “iklwa” or ixwa” which he supposedly invented himself. This was “a short stabbing spear with a long, broad, and sword-like, spearhead.” It had a shaft around two feet long, and a blade one foot in length. Here it is:

The longer spear was not abandoned, but it became a one use weapon which the Zulus would throw in unison at an enemy formation before moving in to attack with the iklwa.

Chaka also favoured the use of a particular shield, the “isihlangu”, which means which means “to brush aside”. Here is one from the internet, which dates from 1879:

In an online shop, their reproduction isihlangu shields measure 38″ by 22″, with a wooden shaft of 48″ which protrudes five inches above and below the shield. As I have learnt, most Zulu artifacts are quite variable.

Chaka taught his warriors to use the isihlangu shield in their hand-to-hand attacks. They hooked the left hand side of their shield under the edge of the opponent’s shield, then spun him sideways to leave his rib cage exposed. The “iklwa” was then inserted between the ribs and into the heart for a death blow. In actual fact, the iklwa acquired its name from the sound it made when you pulled it out of the wound it has made.

Chaka also persuaded his men to fight in formation rather than just charging off, like the beginning of a serious disturbance in a pub car park. He taught them the “bull’s horns” formation and they practiced it in times of peace, so that when war came, they were better organised than they had ever been. Here it is:

I borrowed the diagram from this webpage, although I am proud to say that the Zulu phrases were the only things I didn’t know, having been a huge Zulus fan from a very early age. The enemy are the weedy white rectangle at the top of the diagram. The Zulu for “bull’s horns” by the way, is “impondo zankomo”. Anyway, the warriors in No 1, the “isifuba” charge forward like a group of middle aged women in the first minute of a reduced-to-clear designer handbag sale.  They engage the enemy, isihlangu shields in action and the sound of the iklwa absolutely deafening. Meanwhile, the horns, No 2, the “izimpondo”, move forward quickly and stealthily and encircle the sides and back of the enemy force. If needed, the reserves, the “umava”, the bull’s loins, No 3, wait in case they are needed. Traditionally, they always faced backwards, away  from the battle and looking to the rear, so that they didn’t get over-excited, and then lose their discipline and rush off too soon to join the party. In actual fact, the most frequently occurring time to employ the “umava”, was if the enemy managed to break out of the Zulu encirclement.

All of this manoeuvring could be done because the Zulus had their army divided into regiments. The British in 1879 faced an army of 20,000 men. Their overall commander was Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza with subordinate commanders called Vumindaba kaNthati and Mavumengwana kaNdlela.

The Right Horn was made up of the uDududu and uNokenke regiments, with part of the uNodwengu corps (3,000-4,000 warriors).

The Chest comprised the umCijo, uKhandampevu and uThulwana regiments and part of the uNodwengu corps (7,000-9,000 warriors).

The Left Horn of the bull included the inGobamakhosi, uMbonambi and uVe regiments (5,000-6,000 warriors).

And finally, the Loins, who were the reserves and stood with their backs to the battle were the Undi corps and the uDloko regiment (4,000-5,000 warriors).

The regiments could be distinguished by the colours of the isihlangu shields, and the different numbers and groupings of the marks on them:

Next time we’ll look at some of the other interesting things that the Zulus got up to.

 

 

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Shaka Zulu (1)

He was one of the greatest military commanders in history. He revolutionised warfare on his own continent. A huge statue of him now stands in the middle of a restaurant in London :

He was born in July 1787 and he was assassinated on September 22nd 1828. He was the King of the Zulus from 1816 to 1828. His name was Tshaka kaSenzangakhona but he was better known as “Shaka Zulu”.

His enemies said that he had a big nose, that he had two prominent front teeth and that he spoke as though “his tongue were too big for his mouth.” Many people said that he spoke with a speech impediment. He himself admitted that “Shaka himself was ugly, with a protruding forehead”.

We have no photographs, of course, in 1820. Just drawings or paintings:

Two British ivory traders, Francis Farewell and Henry Fynn, introduced other white men to Shaka in 1824. They were appalled by his cruelty to his enemies. At the same time, they could see his obvious leadership qualities, impressive self possession, great intelligence and a genuine sense of humour.

Shaka was tall. He was muscled. He was strong. His skin tone was dark brown. Petros Sibani, a current historian and tour guide of the Zulu battlefields, has given a sensible opinion about him. He said that there was no doubting that :

“Shaka was a cruel and ruthless man, but these were cruel and ruthless times”

Some historians have called him the Black Napoleon. Fans of the reggae sound system culture regularly chant his name:  “Shakalaka”:

Praise indeed.

As Shaka gradually earned the respect of the Zulu people, they became increasingly willing to adapt his ideas.

Shaka taught the Zulus that if they were to dominate the tribes around them, the most effective strategy was to beat them on the battlefield. Those surrounding tribes had to be conquered and their lands and cattle taken for the Zulus. Any prisoners were given the opportunity of joining his Zulu army.  In this way, the Zulu tribe increased in size extremely quickly and every Zulu soon developed the mindset of a true warrior.

On occasion, though, Chaka made use of other methods as well,  such as diplomatic ties and patronage. The chiefs of friendly tribes became his allies. These included Zihlandlo of the Mkhize, Jobe of the Sithole, and Mathubane of the Thuli. These three tribes were never beaten in battle by the Zulu. Instead Chaka won their hearts and minds by treating them well and repeatedly rewarding them for their loyalty to him.

Initially, the Zulus had fought with a long throwing assegai but to make them more successful, Chaka made radical changes to this traditional weapon. Here is the throwing assegai:

The Zulus had always carried a shield in the left hand. It was a piece of defensive armour designed to deflect enemy spears or assegais and the arrows fired by Hottentots and other non-Bantu peoples . It was often carried also during lion or leopard hunts as protection against such fierce animals. I think that this is the pre-Chaka defensive shield:

Boys would practice with their weapons in “stick fights” with other boys. This activity still exists nowadays:

Chaka would make changes to all of the traditional activities and weapons. He would transform the Zulus into a disciplined army, equipped with weapons that suited the sophisticated new tactics that he had taught them.

He re-organised the Zulu army from top to bottom and transformed it into a fearsome fighting force through a number of  tactical changes. These changes would permit the Zulus to fight against Europeans and, on occasion, to inflict heavy defeats, as happened here at the Battle of Isandlwana:

Next time, the new weapons and the new tactics in more detail, and some more very long Zulu words.

“Sobonana ngokuzayo !”

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The Carvings in the Tower (5)

Robert Michael Gunther (line 5 of the picture below) was one of the young men who, in May 1940, had climbed up into the Tower of the High School and carved their names and their message on a window sill. When the group did this, they could have had no idea how the war would turn out, whether the Germans would cross the Channel and occupy the country, or whether the British forces would manage to fight them off :

Robert lived at a house called “The Haven” in Burton Joyce, a village which is to the north of Nottingham, on the River Trent. He entered the High School on April 24th 1924. Robert won Mr Player’s Prize for Arithmetic (Intermediate) in 1938 and passed his School Certificate in 1939, just a year before he carved his name and message on the stone window sill in the School Tower.

In the OTC, he became a Lance Corporal and then a Corporal in 1938. He won the Certificate ‘A’ prize in 1939 and soon became Company Quarter-Master Sergeant and then Company Sergeant Major. In 1940, he was the most efficient senior NCO and the Commander of the Most Efficient House Platoon. A School Prefect, Robert won his First XV Colours and Cap, and captained the school rugby XV in 1940-1941:

“An exceptionally good leader, he also has shown himself outstanding in all departures (sic) of forward play.”

Robert left the High School on Christmas Eve, 1940. He joined the RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) and by 1942 he was a member of the Fleet Air Arm. He was trained at HMS Kipanga in Kenya and then at HMS Ukussa in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He then joined 810 Squadron. The motto means “Like lightning from the sky”:

810 Squadron, Robert included, flew off the aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious:

At the end of the academic year, in July 1944, the Nottinghamian carried the following message:

“We regret to announce that the following Old Boys have recently been reported “Missing”, and we hope that good news of their safety will soon be received: RM Gunther (1934-40) and FL Corner (1932-39)”.

The Nottinghamian said that Bob Gunther had disappeared during a routine flight over the Indian Ocean in June 1944. In actual fact, he had been shot down while acting as observer in a Fairey Barracuda during a bombing raid on Port Blair in the Andaman Islands.

The Andaman Islands are here:

Here is Port Blair:

And here is a Fairey Barracuda, which could carry combinations of a torpedo, bombs or rockets :

Bob and his pilot, Basil Willington Aldwell, were missing for 15 months. But Bob was not dead. The brutal Japanese had him, and his pilot, in their tender care. From July 13th 1944-August 27th 1945, he was imprisoned at Ofuna near Tokyo before spending two days at Shenagawa. When released he spent a long, long, time in hospital, before he was able to return home. Here are two typical victims of what was, ultimately, Japanese racism:

At Christmas 1945, another notification was published in the Nottinghamian:

“Sub-lieutenant RM Gunther RNVR (1934-1940) who disappeared on an operational flight over the Indian Ocean, in June 1944, is reported safe and on his way home. No news had been heard of him for some 15 months, and we are delighted to know of his safety.”

The extraordinary story also appeared in the Nottingham Evening News:

“One of the first Nottingham people to get a cablegram announcing the release of prisoners of war in Japan is Mrs KL Gunther of 37 Staunton Drive, Sherwood, who today was one of the first in Nottingham to receive news that her only son was returning home. His telegram read “Safe in Allied hands. Hope to be home soon. Writing. Address letters and telegrams to Liberated POW, c/o Australian Army Base Post Office, Melbourne.”

Sub Lieutenant RN Gunther of the Fleet Air Arm had been liberated. He had survived the Pacific war, a theatre where it was only too easy to lose your life.

Frank Leonard Corner, the other name in the Nottinghamian magazine of Summer 1944, was not so lucky.

At 00:25 on June 7th 1944, operating as a flight engineer, he had taken off from RAF Metheringham in an Avro Lancaster Mark III of 106 Squadron. It carried the squadron letters “Z-NH” and had a serial number of NE150. “Z-Zebra” was tasked with attacking bridges near Caen in the immediate aftermath of D-Day. It carried 18 x 500 lb bombs in its capacious bomb bay. Bombing from 3,000 feet and lower, at around 03:00 hours, the Lancasters were hit very severely by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, where a worker at the railway yard remembers vividly how the German gunners celebrated the fact that they had shot down a bomber, which must surely have been “Z-Zebra”. Frank was just twenty years old when he died. His service number was 222039 and his parents had by now moved to Whiston near Rotherham in South Yorkshire.

Frank was the scorer for the school’s First XI cricket team in 1938. In the photograph below he sits cross legged in front of the team:

Three of that season’s cricketers were killed in the war, as well as the team scorer.

Boy No 4 on the front row, George Colin Brown, of the Second Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment, was killed in Normandy on July 8th 1944, as 7 Platoon helped to clear the village of Hérouville-Saint-Clair of Germans.

“We slowly crept forward across open fields. As we broke into a trot, the Germans came out of holes in the ground like rats and unleashed hell. Mortars rained down on us and machine gun bullets were flying everywhere. Ahead of me, my platoon commander, Lieutenant Brown and his batman were killed.”

George Colin Brown was just 24 years old when he died. He was a young man whose….

“fast in-swinging ‘yorker’ on the leg stump was so devastating on its day.”

Boy No 5 on the back row, Ian Leslie Wilkinson, was killed on January 31st 1944, after taking off on a routine training flight from RAF Tilstock in an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V of 81 OTU, serial number LA 765. They crashed about 30 miles away near Dilhorne, a tiny village in Staffordshire. Ian was 24 years old and he was training to be a bomber pilot.

Boy No 6 on the back row, John Richard Mason, was killed on Friday, April 16th 1943, near RCAF Station Assiniboia in southern Saskatchewan in Canada. Sergeant Mason, a Pilot Instructor, was instructing Trainee Pilot, Leading Aircraftman John Hugh Evans, when their Fairchild Cornell Mark I, serial number FJ654, crashed into the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

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A little taste of Egypt in Nottingham

How do they give names to the streets and roads of England? Well, there are lots of methods. Let’s take a quick look at Nottingham.

They are named after famous people (Shakespeare Street). They are named after the people who used to live there (Friargate) and the activities that used to happen there (Fletchergate….fletchers make arrows, or it’s from the word “flesh” which is what butchers sell you). Where the road goes to. (Hucknall Road). Who owned the land (Thackeray’s Lane). What the church is called (St Peter’s Gate). What building is there (Castle Gate). After events that happened in history. (Standard Hill…..where King Charles I first raised his banner and began forming an army at the outset of the English Civil War on August 22nd 1642.)

“Gata” incidentally is an old Viking word for street and will date back to 867AD when Nottingham was captured by the dreaded Northmen.

During the house building boom in the suburbs of Nottingham during the late 19th century and the early 20th century, the builder would often name streets after his own family. Here is an example in West Bridgford. Look for the Orange Arrow, wearing his anti-Covid mask:

The only problem is that we can recognise the first names such as Florence, Mabel and Violet,  but what was their surname? Was it Crosby or Trevelyan? So often they seem to miss this detail out, or  not to make it too obvious which name it is.

Has this builder tried his best to make it obvious by putting all of the first names around the surname “Musters” ?

Exactly the same thing was still going on in the mid-1970s when we moved into suburbia ourselves. The same problem remained, though. What was the surname? Our house was at the end of the Orange Arrow. The fourth one down the hill from the little gap which had an old oak tree in it.

Strangest of all, though, in Nottingham, are the streets which are all, clearly, named after a particular event, or even after another country. Between 1880-1900, the theme in a particular suburb of Nottingham, namely New Basford, was Egypt. This was a working class area with a huge number of terraced houses, and somebody, somewhere, decided to name the streets there in such a way as to commemorate the British involvement in Egypt, although I have been unable to ascertain any definite answer to that simple question….”Why now? ”   Was it to commemorate Nelson’s victory in the Battle of the Nile in 1798 ? Or the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 ? I just don’t know.  Perhaps it was because of events in 1882. Wikipedia says that :

“After increasing tensions and nationalist revolts, the United Kingdom invaded Egypt in 1882, crushing the Egyptian army at the Battle of Tell El Kebir and militarily occupying the country. Following this, the Khedivate became a de facto British protectorate under nominal Ottoman sovereignty”.

Whatever the answer, we now have, in New Basford, an Egypt Road, a Cairo Street, a Delta Street, a Suez Street and a Rosetta Road :

Do we all understand these references ?

Well, first of all, in the photograph below, there’s Egypt Street on the left, the home of Ramesses the Great and the Arab world’s greatest rock group, Mo Salah and the Pyramids. As a bonus, there’s also an excellent view of the junction with Suez Street :

Suez also has a canal. Here it is during the rush hour. It looks like the US Navy has brought its aircraft out to sunbathe:

Cairo is famous for its rush hour although I was really disappointed that it was cars not camels. Camels are far too clever to get into this kind of mess :

And here’s Cairo Street, once the traffic has thinned out a little. Watch out for that camel behind you!

Here’s the Nile Delta, which has its very own rush hour, but with dhows rather than supertankers :

Last and most famous is the Rosetta Stone, commissioned by Pharaoh Ptolemy V and found in the city of Rosetta two thousand years later, decorated with the same thing written in three different languages.

Firstly, there are hieroglyphics for the priests, then Demotic, the native Egyptian script used for everyday business, and Ancient Greek, the language of the civil service. At this time Egypt was ruled over by Greek speakers after Alexander the Great conquered the country :

Notice how somebody has put a magnifying glass over each bit, so that you can see the differences. Rosetta Road has no such problems over communication, because 99% of the time, it is deserted, except for cars:

Originally the French had the Rosetta Stone, but after Admiral Nelson beat them in the Battle of the Nile, the English took it to the British Museum where, even now, it is the most visited thing in the whole museum. I thought that title might have belonged to the toilets:

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (2)

Last time, I told you my Dad’s three favourite lines of poetry, which he would quote out loud at what he thought was the right moment.

Any mention of autumn, in any context, in real life, on TV, the fact that it was October, any of those would produce Keats’ line:

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

Sometimes he would manage the second line after it:

“Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”

Any bird high up in the sky, perhaps a skylark but definitely not an eagle, pigeon or airliner would produce Shelley’s line:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,”

And then, Fred’s improvement on the lines by William Henry Davies:

“What is this life if so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare ? ”

Any mention of ships though, either in real life or on television, would set him off with some phrases, or even a couple of lines, from another of Fred’s favourite poets, namely John Masefield. All the family, therefore, soon became familiar with the various vessels of his poem “Cargoes”, and their home ports.  There was a “quinquireme of Nineveh ” and a “ stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus ” or, much more more likely in the North Sea off Skegness or Scarborough, perhaps, a “ dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack. ”

The first verse was a

“Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.”

The second verse was equally exotic:

“Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.”

And here’s that very galleon:

In contrast, though, the third, and last, verse is about a ship of a much humbler origin:

“Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.”

And here it is:

And now, some of the meanings:

Nineveh was the ancient capital of Assyria. You can see its ruins on the opposite bank of the River Tigris from Mosul, in northern Iraq.

Ophir was probably one of the many empires which flourished either on the banks of the Nile or in the Horn of Africa. King Solomon received a cargo from Ophir every three years. It was a consignment of gold, silver, sandalwood, pearl, ivory, apes, and peacocks. Presumably, the quinqireme in the poem was on its way to Israel.

Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz. The name comes from the Greek “αμέθυστος“.

Moidores were a Portuguese gold coin of the early 18th century and then worth about 27 shillings.

Topaz is a silicate mineral of aluminium and fluorine with the chemical formula Al2SiO4(F, OH)2. Topaz crystallizes in the orthorhombic system, and its crystals are mostly prismatic terminated by pyramidal and other faces. (There will be a test next Monday).

As a preliminary to the test, which one is which? Moidores? Topaz? Amethyst?

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“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (7)

It’s a long time since Post No 6 in this series about the futility of the Boer War, but I would like to finish off with what is perhaps the saddest and most poignant tale of them all. The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer (Dutch) states, the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, over the British Empire’s influence in South Africa.

The catalyst for the war was the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states:

Richard Truman Fitzhugh was born on June 8th 1873. He was educated first at Shrewsbury Grammar School and then at Nottingham High School. There are at least four boys visible in this picture of the School, taken from a spot near what was then the old Caretaker’s House:

Richard arrived at the High School on May 4th 1891, with the sole intention of passing the examination needed to enter university and to become a doctor.  His success was duly recorded in the School List :

“London Matriculation Examination, First Division, June 1891”

Having accomplished exactly what he had come for, Richard left at the end of the school  year, in July 1891.

Richard was particularly talented and popular, but sadly he became a totally innocent victim of a greedy overseas war, started by men eager for gold and diamonds:

“It is with deep regret that we record the death of Dr Richard Truman FitzHugh, the only son of Mr Richard Fitzhugh, JP, of Clumber Crescent, The Park, Nottingham. His death occurred on June 15th, 1900 as the result of enteric fever (typhoid), at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein, South Africa.”

Richard was only 27 years old.

The first intimation of his illness had reached Nottingham at the end of May. In his letter, Richard mentioned that he was suffering from shivering fits.

Then a telegram arrived in Nottingham saying that Richard was seriously ill.

On Friday, June 15th, another telegram arrived, with the first indication of anything life-threatening:

“Regret to inform you that your son, Richard, is dangerously ill with enteric fever”.

Two days of anxious suspense followed, then a third telegram arrived:

“Deeply regret to inform you of the death of your son, Richard, from enteric fever, an irreparable loss to this hospital, he having endeared himself to all.”

Richard had gone straight from Nottingham High School to Guy’s Hospital for his medical training. He passed important examinations in 1892 and in 1895. He became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and then a Bachelor of Medicine in 1898. Here is a ward in the hospital with what may be an oxygen tent in the rear right corner:

Richard worked as Assistant House-Surgeon and House Physician as well as Obstetric Resident, Clinical and Gynaecological Assistant, and Dresser in the eye wards. Here’s one of the operating theatres:

His obituary came from his colleagues:

”He was a man of culture and ability, held in high regard by his associates at Guy’s, not only because of his medical skill, but because of the part he played in its social life. He was a fine sportsman and soon took a prominent place in athletics. He was a leading cricketer and helped to win the cup in 1892. He was best of all at Association Football. Indeed, Richard was one of the best players of recent years, and won the cup in 1894, besides captaining the team from 1894-1896.

He was Assistant Secretary of the Student’s Club, President of the Residents, and foremost among the singers at Christmas.

Richard was a man with a keen sense of humour and the most popular performer at the smoking concerts which cheered us up so well. One of his songs was so admired that, however many others he sang, he could never leave the piano until he had sung that favourite one.

Behind his good humour and cheeriness, though, there was a solid character, and an honest straight forwardness that made us all trust and admire him. An old friend wrote:

“There was nobody I worked with at Guy’s for whose character I had greater respect, or whose society gave me greater pleasure.

He was a sterling gentleman and there is some consolation that he died amongst his friends, and that everything was done for him.”

The news of “the termination of such a promising career by a malignant disease which is causing more deaths than the enemy, has evoked enormous sympathy for his family.”

Mr Fripp was the Senior Surgeon at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein:

He wrote:

“Everybody felt they had lost a friend. He was popular with his colleagues and the nursing sisters, the NCOs and the orderlies, and also with the patients. It seemed he would attain a very high place in his profession, but he also had many characteristics which endeared him to everyone.

Poor “Fitz” will never be forgotten. There “was an enormous congregation at his funeral. All ranks of the hospital were represented. They formed a long procession to the cemetery. The coffin was carried by orderlies, and some of his fellow Guy’s men acted as pall-bearers.

I doubt if the cost of war was ever brought home to us as fully as when we heard of poor FitzHugh’ s death. None of us even knew he was ill.”

Dr Fitzhugh’s death is commemorated on the Nottingham Boer War Memorial in the Forest Recreation Ground. It used to stand in Queen Street in the city centre but was moved in 1927. No war memorials last for ever. Sadly, after a certain period of time, they have to be relocated elsewhere to make room for the new war memorial.

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Classics Illustrated

In the 1950s and the 1960s, there was always a desire among middle class parents not just to encourage their children to read, but to read what people called at the time “classic books”, books which might improve you. One way of luring children to, mainly, 19th century masterpieces, was to introduce them to a very large collection of such books for sale, an act which would encourage children, hopefully, to buy more and more from the “approved” library.

When I was a child, I had a very small collection of “Olive Classics”, dark green books with a kind of faux-leather cover, and a cardboard mini-box to hold them in. I still have them all, and I was looking at them the other day. I think I read the lot, although this may be more a reflection of the small number of books I possessed than the quality of the works in question:

I bought them based on whether or not I had seen the film (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), whether I had heard of the book and thought it was a good one (Ivanhoe) and if my parents just bought it for me as a stocking filler at Christmas (South with Scott). I also had Ben-Hur (tedious and over long), Allan Quartermain (a fabulous book):

Another way to read books which would be good for you were the magazines entitled “Classics Illustrated”. These were a series of American comic books which told the stories in pictures with very few printed words, usually just a caption. I had one or two of these as well, and certainly read them all avidly. It was marvellous to see pictures bringing books to life, although, if truth be told, the standard of the artworks was very, very low. Let’s compare them with “Eagle” comic. “War of the Worlds is really quite crude, whether it is the cover:

or the inside, where there seems to have been a problem with the printing;

Here’s “Eagle”, a weekly comic:

I can remember owning relatively few Classics Illustrated. There was “White Fang” which I really enjoyed. It was a “Ripping Yarn”, well told:

And then there was “Black Arrow” which I had never heard of, found really unexciting and I couldn’t understand the plot, anyway. The two I liked best were technically not Classics Illustrated, but, in one case, a “Special Issue”. This was a one-off publication about “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police”, which I loved. I particularly liked the fact that they were originally the “North West Mounted Police”:

What a wonderful cover!  One thing I did like especially was the dog on page 54 which looks as daft as a brush:

And I also fully endorsed, at the tender age of 11, the largely wise approach of the Canadians to their own First Nation communities.

The magazine which I liked even more was one of the “Classics Illustrated World Around Us” special series which was called “The Crusades”. I was intrigued by one particular sentence which said, roughly:

“Things took a turn for the worse when, in IIII, the king decided to…..”

At the age of eight or nine, I just could not work out what “IIII” meant. It  never occurred to me that it was a date.

Overall, I wish I had had quite a few more Classics Illustrated than I did.  I would have liked to have had a chance to read “Alice in Wonderland” or “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, or perhaps even “Gulliver’s Travels”:

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And don’t forget………….

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