Category Archives: Bomber Command

Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (3)

Anthony Richardson wrote three books of verse during his lifetime, all of them during World War Two. The first was called “Because of these: Verses of the Royal Air Force” (1942). Then there was “These – Our Children” (1943) and finally “Full Cycle: Verses of the Royal Air Force” (1946). Last time, we were looking at the first one:

Richardson joined the RAF at the beginning of the war and his career was related in the official records in the following fashion. It may give you an idea of the difficulties which may be encountered when you are trying to follow somebody’s military career:

Firstly he was a “T/2nd Lt. 05.09.1918 (reld 01.09.1921)”.

Then he was “P/O (prob) 18.06.1940 [80934]”.

Next he was “(WS) F/O (prob) 20.01.1941”

and then “(WS) F/O 18.06.1941”

He finished as a “(T) F/Lt. 01.09.1942”.

And like my father he was “demobilized 1946”

The numbers are either his RAF service number or the date he assumed his rank. Other abbreviations are “T” (Temporary), “P/O” (Pilot Officer) and then “F/O” is Flying Officer, “F/Lt.” is Flight Lieutenant and “WS” is War Service. “Prob” is “on probation”.

As far as I know, Richardson was an Intelligence Officer on a Bomber Base, which means that he would listen to the tales the bomber crews told when they returned and then write them all down, so that they could be passed on for others to correlate and thereby produce some kind of general overview:

I’ve found one or two more of the best poems from Richardson’s book “Because of these”, and I’ll be showing them to you in the rest of this blog post.

The first poem I selected is called “There is a Land”. It has an almost jokey tone to it. The poet envisages a land, he doesn’t know where, but everything is perfect. Weather forecasts are always accurate, everybody is a member of RAF aircrew, there are no sudden calls to take off, no hours spent on stand by and everything is beautiful. The third verse mentions the three types of light on a wartime RAF airbase, namely the boundary lights, the glim-lamps (glim is short for “glimmer”), and the Chance-lights, made by Chance’s, a factory in Birmingham just half a mile from where my wife lived as a child. In real life, these lights were all deliberately kept very dim so as not to help German night fighters, so in a perfect land, they all shine brightly:

When you go out in your Blenheim light bomber, everything is perfect:

Verse four speaks of “golden clouds” and a “free and boundless sky”. But, alas, in the fifth verse, they’ll all be flying near Horley Ness, where the weather is so bad that there are bound to be crashes. That will in turn create vacancies in the canteen (the “Mess”) so that the people who get back will be able to eat the extra sausages:

These next two poems are both epitaphs. Both of them rhyme, and do so without becoming ridiculous doggerel. Epitaph 1 makes the point of how a man’s body can be destroyed in an instant and leave just a burnt patch on the ground. But once winter is past, Mother Nature makes the flowers and the grass grow and they soon cover up all traces of charred earth. The poet, though, wonders how the plants can grow heedless of the remains of a hero among their roots. Every RAF man knew that he might finish up that way. Like Guy Gibson, just a single foot in a single sock. Or one of the Old Nottinghamians I have written about. He and his six companions became just five bones, some of them fingers, and not even enough for one per coffin:

The second epitaph paints an even more gaunt picture of the life of RAF aircrew. A sergeant pilot lies in his grave, having at last taken to wife the dark maiden Death. He had encountered her several times before, but on this occasion, he looks too deeply into her eyes and “she enfolded him in her embrace. Again a rhyming poem, although this time with a different pattern of rhyme:

I hope you enjoyed them. More next time.

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In the Steps of the Valiant (Volume One)

Three months or so have passed by since I first published “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”, which was the story of the lives and deaths of 23 of the 120 or so men who were educated at Nottingham High School and who subsequently sacrificed their lives for us all in the Second World War. Also included is one young man who was killed in the early 1950s in the RAF.

So far, I am afraid, sales have been really quite disappointing. I have no real idea why this should be the case. The book is of a length commensurate with the price. The number of words holds up well alongside, say, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, “The Two Towers”, “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Emma”.

The book is priced at £18 and is more or less entirely my original research. And what better things could you get for £18? Two cinema seats. A bottle of “Graham’s 10-Year-Old Tawny Port”. You could buy a Venus Fly Trap. Or a glasses case with your name on it. Or enough wildflower seeds to plant three square metres. You could buy some Miracle berry tablets. The tablets last for about an hour and alter your taste buds so that anything sour tastes sweet.

Perhaps the book is being perceived as being limited to only one town or city. I don’t know, but I had hoped that people would realise that Nottingham stands here for any British town of similar size.

What is much more important though, much more important than sales alone, is that my original research has now been completed and that we now have a much longer list of war casualties than was previously the case. In the immediate aftermath of the end of hostilities in 1945-1946, the High School thought that 82 of its former pupils had perished in the war. My researches have extended that number to 121 men whose lives and deaths have been investigated and will now never be forgotten. I have also found five deaths in the early 1950s. Once they have been unearthed and brought out into the light, they will never be lost again. And people will have a chance to read something about the lives of these brave men and to see what they did for us all.

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

Here are just a few of them. This is Tony Lloyd of the Parachute Regiment:

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This is Keith Whitson:

And  John Harold Gilbert Walker, Spitfire pilot:

And Alfred Chenhalls:

And Edwin Banks and his aircraft, a Gloster Gladiator:

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And Robert Renwick Jackson and his all-black Douglas Boston:

Their brave deaths spanned a whole world. Killed in a Dakota over the Bay of Biscay. Killed in a Bomber Command aircraft over Germany. Killed by the Blitz in Leicester. Killed in North Africa fighting on foot. Killed fighting to seize a bridge in Sicily. Killed fighting to seize a bridge too far in the Netherlands. Killed by exposure during the summer in an unenclosed RAF dinghy in the English Channel. Killed in the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia. Killed crashing a Gloster Gladiator in Greece. Lost for ever in the trackless snowy Canadian wastes. Killed crashing a Fleet Air Arm fighter into the warm waters off Trincomalee.

Here’s that link:

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Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (2)

Anthony Richardson was educated first at Marlborough College and then at Manchester University. Before the war he would publish a good few books, all of them detective novels, historical novels,  fantasy thrillers or what were then called  “bodice rippers”. They were almost what Quentin Tarantino would call “Pulp Fiction”, but without the sexual content. During his lifetime, Richardson probably made more money from his thrillers and detective stories rather than from his books of poetry, but that’s just a guess.

Nowadays the pulp fiction books are quite rare but they are still obtainable, sometimes at a considerable price. Here is “Ransom” (1925). The plot is that a bad boy returns as a success to the school that expelled him and marries the daughter of his former teacher. Note the UFO hovering over the book:

And ”High Silver” (1926):And “The Barbury Witch” (1927):Other books from before the war were “The Transgressor” (1928) “Milord and I “(1930), “City of the Rose” (1933) and “Golden Empire” (1938).

During the war years, Richardson turned to poetry. After the war, though, he went back to popular prose. His books included “Wingless Victory” (1951), “The Rose of Kantara” (1951):

“Crash Kavanagh” (1953):

“Rommel’s Birthday Party” (1956):

“No place to lay my Head” (1957), the tale of a Byelorussian soldier in the German army in WW2:

“One Man and his Dog” (1962):

Richardson must have made quite a bit of money too from two very successful non-fiction books. One was “Nick of Notting Hill: The bearded policeman. The story of Police Constable J. Nixon of the Metropolitan Police”:

The other was “Wingless Victory”, a World War Two prisoner of war escape story:

During the war years, Richardson wrote three books of verse. The first was called “Because of these: Verses of the Royal Air Force” (1942). I bought a copy about a year ago for two or three pounds. My book has the date April 4th 1942 written inside the front cover, presumably the date of purchase. On this date the Luftwaffe attacked the Soviet fleet at Kronstadt but without success. The book itself was bought at Goulden’s of Canterbury for 1/6d or 7½ pence in today’s money. Goulden’s, an important shop in the area, seems to have ceased trading in 1947. Their shop was on the High Street:

Here is what they sold:

I initially selected two poems to look at from this book. You have already met one of them in my first post, “W/OP–A/G Blenheim Mk IV”, and here is the second of the two entitled “There was an air gunner”.

The first four verses describe a man who lives in Devon, a particularly beautiful agricultural county in the south west of England. There are two verses which list “all that yields beauty and blessedness” in his life, which is, at that moment, completely and totally perfect. So much so that he begins to sing in sheer happiness. He sings the traditional Devon folk song “Uncle Tom Cobleigh”, which every child in England learnt until the Rolling Stones arrived in the 1960s to put a stop to all that kind of innocent childishness:

Here are the lyrics.  of Uncle Tom Cobleigh”.  And here is somebody singing them:

The man’s “lusty voice” echoes down the steep Devon valley, but there is also a supernatural note introduced because “There they echo still.” The supernatural idea is developed in the last verse by the fact that the man has had his voice cut short by violent death on a bombing mission to Cologne. Nevertheless, when the sun in spring is bright, the Devon valley now has, in ghostly fashion, “a voice its own”:

Since I picked out the first two, I’ve discovered a few more little gems in “Because of these: Verses of the Royal Air Force” and I will show you them next time.

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Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (1)

It is often said that there are no great poets from the Second World War, but I’m not always so sure about that.

True, there are perhaps none as good as Wilfrid Owen or Siegfried Sassoon from the First World War, but, armed only with a computer and a credit card, I’ve still managed without too much difficulty to buy around half a dozen books of decent quality World War Two poetry, all of them the original editions published in the early 1940s.

And if I do inspire you to buy any poetry books from this period, please be aware that after more than seventy years, the dust jackets can be very tatty and may even have changed colour. And if you can find a copy where the dust jacket has been covered by “Mylar”, buy that one!

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What I intend to do is to show you some examples of what I think are the best poems, with my own explanations of the difficult bits if I feel that they are necessary.

DO NOT PANIC

None of this RAF poetry is in “ye funnie lankuage” spoken by Shakspere or Geoffrey Chaucer.

There’s nothing from King Lear:

“Thou changed and self-cover’d thing, for shame,
Be-monster not thy feature. Were’t my fitness
To let these hands obey my blood,
They are apt enough to dislocate and tear
Thy flesh and bones: howe’er thou art a fiend,
A woman’s shape doth shield thee.”

It’s not from Chaucer:

“And, whan he rood, men mighte his brydel here

Ginglen in a whistling wynd as clere,

And eek as loude as dooth the chapel-belle”

The RAF poetry is all easy to understand and you might even enjoy it.

First up to the plate is Anthony Richardson, (1899-1964). His full name was Anthony Thomas Stewart Currie Richardson and he would one day marry a lady with an equally impressive name. She was Marion de Mouchet Baynham.

Richardson’s first book of poetry was entitled “Because of these: Verses of the Royal Air Force” (1942). You can even get a nice dust jacket if you are patient:

This poem is called “W/OP–A/G Blenheim Mk IV” and it was included in what is actually a rather slim volume.  A Blenheim is an RAF light bomber and a “W/OP–A/G” is a “wireless operator-air gunner”.  Read this easy bit first. Balham is a district of London:

Richardson draws the parallels between the inoffensive man at home in the first eight lines above, and then the air gunner in the extract below, sitting in his gun turret, holding his guns, ready to fight. And at eventide he wonders if he will be alive to see the rising sun greet the morning. And in the last two lines, he watches the sky for German fighters, just as once he used to watch his beautiful daughter with the firelight on her hair creating a halo around her beautiful face. And finally,  “this most strange, impersonal affair”, I think, refers to the fact that any quarrel between himself and the fighter pilot is not personal, it’s just the way things are:

All that, and it rhymes too! And the syllables have a regular pattern.

That’s why it’s poetry and not prose.

Next time, I’ll tell you about Anthony Richardson in more depth and we’ll look at one more of his poems. Poetry is like spicy food for the brain. You have to take it slowly at first.

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (7)

Last time I related how the crews of two Sunderland flying boats, having spent the entire war without seeing a single U-boat, found two German submarines on their way to surrender and sank both of them. I used two pictures borrowed from the Internet. One was a beautiful painting:

And the second was a genuine black and white photograph:

The Coastal Command airmen that Fred had met in the pub, probably in north Scotland, explained to him that they sank the two U-boats because they had spent so many hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of their young lives out on dreary patrols over the cold grey waters of the Atlantic. They had risked their lives in the pursuit of an enemy that they had never ever seen, as he hid in the cold grey metal waters of the Atlantic and emerged only at night. In similar fashion, Fred himself had never ever seen a German aircraft in combat during any of his nineteen missions. And even if they never saw a submarine, flying for ten hours over the cold grey featureless ocean is not without its dangers:

 

Most of all, these young men knew that they had wasted their youth, the best years of their lives, pursuing not pretty young girls at the village dance, but elusive submarines in the featureless cold grey seascape of the Atlantic Ocean. And it was revenge for this irreparable loss of their youth that they sought. If the RAF lads had a six or seven year gap in their young lives, then the Germans, who had now started their second major global war in twenty years, would not be allowed to have the rest of their own lives, certainly if the RAF had anything to do with it:

Sinking a U-boat which was on its way to surrender, after the end of hostilities,  was, of course, a war crime.

“Thou shalt not kill” the Good Book says, although the original words of the Torah, “לֹא תִּרְצָח”, should really be translated as “Thou shalt not murder” rather than our rather wishy washy “Thou shalt not kill”. And this was indubitably murder, so it was a war crime, although in many ways it was an understandable one.

It was the waste of so many years of their short lives that had finally got to them. Fred himself very much resented the years that he had spent “stuck in a Nissen hut in the middle of nowhere.” He was stationed at one stage at Elsham Wolds which was not a particularly beautiful or interesting place. It must have provoked great boredom and frustration among the hundreds, if not thousands of young men who were all forced to be there. Here’s the old runway, with its present-day green half and its grey half:

severn trent

Yet despite their boredom and their frustration, these young men would all have felt raw naked fear for much of the time. They knew that they were laying their own young lives on the line pretty much every single day.

My Dad told me that the only things that got him into that Lancaster were the fear of being thought a coward, and the fact that the crew all depended on each other and were all in it together:

Because of his never ending fear, like thousands of other combattants, Fred also despised the comfortable lives of many of the older people in the area where he was born and where he spent the majority of his leaves. They lived out their humdrum existences without any risk whatsoever, while young men in their early twenties were killed in large numbers every time there was a raid. The contempt Fred felt was, of course, just a measure of his own fear, at the possibility of having to fly over burning Berlin, or some other heavily defended Bomber Command target:

Having joined the RAF as a volunteer on September 29th 1941 at the age of nineteen, Fred expected to return home in May 1945. Alas, he wasted yet more time after the end of the war.

Fred was eventually discharged from the RAF well after the date when his favourite team, Derby County, whom he followed for more than seventy years, won the FA Cup for the only time in their history. Fred missed the game as he was “busy, doing nothing” with the RAF:

Fred eventually left the Second World War on November 19th 1946, after just over five years. Not much in a lifetime of over eighty years, but as he himself was never slow to explain in later life, these were potentially “the best years of my life”.

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (6)

My father Fred, during his spell in the RAF from 1941-1946 had relatively little direct contact with the pilots and crews of the huge Short Sunderland flying boats of Coastal Command:

He was certainly well aware though, that, because their patrols were of such long duration, these planes were extremely well appointed. They actually had galleys on board, where members of the crew could make cups of tea, or other hot beverages, or cook themselves proper meals. No luxuries like those of the Sunderland were ever afforded to the crews of the much more Spartan four engined heavy bombers such as the Lancaster or the Halifax.

The huge flying boat even had a number of bunks, where the crew could have a sleep if they were feeling particularly weary. And the Sunderland was so incredibly spacious. Here is the pilot on his way to the Library and the Sun Deck:

Enough room to swing a Catalina round ! Well almost.

My Dad was used to the Lancaster which was very much a tight fit for everyone:

The biggest problem was the main spar:

From 1952 onwards the French Aéronavale had eighty ex-RAAF Lancasters. How on earth did they get on, carrying out searches of the Atlantic Ocean which lasted ten hours or longer ?

It’s difficult to imagine waitress service in a Lancaster. In a Sunderland, the difficulty would merely have been finding the waitress as she wandered through the built in wardrobes:


One thing that Fred did discover, however, was what happened at the end of the war, when the U-boats came in to British ports to surrender. The cessation of hostilities was not quite as clear cut, black and white, as it should have been, and neither was it always carried out in as civilised a fashion as might have been hoped. The members of two Sunderland crews told him, for example, how they had found U-boats sailing along on the surface, on their way to surrender in the nearest British port, possibly in the River Foyle bound for Derry-Londonderry or in the Firth of Firth-Forth making their way to the naval base at Rosyth.

They immediately attacked and sank both of the submarines with all hands. Here goes the first one:

And here goes the second one:

Was this a war crime? We’ll look at that next time.

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My New Book

We have just finished publishing my new book about the High School’s casualties in WW2. Here is the front cover:

And here is the blurb from the back cover:

In the Footsteps of the Valiant: The Lives and Deaths of the Forgotten Heroes of Nottingham High School (Vol.1).

This is the first volume of a series detailing the Old Nottinghamians of all ages who sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom during the Second World War. After nearly five years of ground breaking research, I have been able to add at least forty new names to the official casualty list. I have also uncovered details of the fates of almost all of these hundred and twenty casualties wherever they died, from Saskatchewan to Iran.

This is not, however, a book just about death. I also tell the stories of their lives: their families, where they used to live and their years at school with Masters very different from those of today. 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 details of the conflicts they fought in and how they met their deaths, the details of which were completely unknown until I carried out my groundbreaking research. And all this is spiced with countless tales of the living Nottingham of yesteryear, a city so different from that of today.

No tale is left untold. No anecdote ignored.

Now available for purchase through Lulu.com:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-knifton/in-the-footsteps-of-the-valiant-the-lives-and-deaths-of-the-forgotten-heroes-of-nottingham-high-school-volume-one/paperback/product-24309191.html

The book has 348 pages and is 24 x 19 cms in size (9½ inches x 7½ inches). Any profits will go to ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and the RAF Benevolent Fund.

The title refers to “the Valiant” because for the last hundred years or so, the hymn sung in the very first assembly of the school year is that old favourite, “He who would valiant be”. The hymn was the only one ever written by John Bunyan, the author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. Here are the words of the three verses. They don’t write them like that any more:

“He who would valiant be ‘gainst all disaster
Let him in constancy follow the Master
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim

Who so beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound – his strength the more is
No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight
He will make good his right to be a pilgrim

Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit
We know we at the end, shall life inherit
Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say
I’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim”

Here’s the video:

Apparently the boys back in the 1920s wanted to sing the original unexpurgated John Bunyan version, but were not allowed to. Verse 3 lines 1 and 2 used to be:

“Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,

Can daunt his spirit “

Verse 2 lines 5 and 6 used to be equally exciting with:

“No lion can him fright,

He’ll with a giant fight,”

You can read all about it here.

This hymn has nowadays become the Battle Hymn of the SAS.

One Old Nottinghamian was killed fighting with the SAS in the Mediterranean theatre. Another died at Arnhem:

And another in Iran:

Another in Burma:

Another in Egypt:

In Leicester:

In Greece:

And in Saskatchewan, Canada:

And now, after nearly five years of completely original and ground breaking research, at least forty new names can now be added to the old list of eighty.

And the hitherto unknown details of the fates of almost all of these hundred and twenty casualties have been discovered.

The full story is available here.

 

 

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