Category Archives: Canada

The Mosquito at Hendon (2)

Last time, I wrote about the De Havilland Mosquito at the RAF Museum at Hendon. This individual is painted as a Mosquito B.35, TJ138, in 98 Squadron markings, reflecting the squadron’s time spent at Celle in Lower Saxony, flying Mosquitoes during the occupation of West Germany from 1945-1951:

The squadron badge is Cerberus, the 3 Headed guardian of Hell because, quoting the RAF website:

“This squadron claims to have barred the way (front and rear) during the German retreat in 1918 and so considered Cerberus, as the watchdog of Hades, a suitable badge.”

I don’t understand that to be honest, but if the RAF are happy with it, then so am I.

And I’ve never known what that ridge along the fuselage was for:

Such slim, sleek lines:

A bit closer. You can see why Mosquito crews had to be careful of these propellers. They are so close to the fuselage:

Here’s the bomb bay:

And even closer up:

The Mosquito was capable of carrying 4,000 lbs of bombs. Best of all, it had an uninterrupted bomb bay, with no struts or barriers to prevent the aircraft from carrying a 4,000lb Cookie. That meant that two Mosquitoes and the four men in them could carry the same as a B-17 with 10 men. A Lancaster carried 14,000lb with 7 men, the only heavy bomber capable of outdoing the Mosquito in this kind of contest.

Here’s one of the two very powerful Merlin engines. Behind it, something so modern and so boring that nobody would want to fly it:

Did you spot the mystery item behind the Mosquito on the left? My guess is that it is part of the lighting system or perhaps a flying Stealth Lawnmower invisible to radar.

Here’s where the bombardier sat. The next time you watch “633 Squadron”, notice how the inaccurate swines have painted over the Perspex in a vain effort to disguise a bomber pure and simple as a fighter bomber with four cannons:

It’s so shocking and so obvious when you look at it:

One thing you can be sure of though. This particular Mosquito was not in “633 Squadron”, surely the only flying Mosquito in the world that was not used. Perhaps it was an economy measure. The owners of all those different Mosquitoes did charge a whopping £2 a day to rent one.

The last photograph shows two people (not with me) and three other aircraft. One is Japanese and if it’s not a Kawasaki Ki 100 then I don’t know what it is. The World War I aircraft top right, I really don’t know what that is, either. I’ve just forgotten. Perhaps an SE5?

The aircraft on the left has the distinctive tail of the Fokker DVII and guess what? It is one!

 

A note to say that my hand is now capable of a little light typing so I have managed to catch up on my replies to all the kind comments you made on my previous six blog posts. From now on, it should be back to normal, although I am well aware that operations go in pairs, and it will only be a matter of time until the right hand needs a full service.

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, History

In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command (2)

When I wrote the first part of my review of the book “In for a Penny, In for a Pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command” written by Howard Hewer, I had never written a book review before, so I suppose I can now say “Welcome to my second book review”.

Last time I mentioned how the author talked about his experiences in the RAF in Britain, but how he was then transferred to the Middle East, bombing the Germans and Italians with Vickers Wellingtons:

In actual fact the Wellington was probably the best bomber used in this theatre of war in the early years. At least they weren’t using these Bristol Bombays as bombers:

And they weren’t forced to use these biplanes as bombers, for want of any aircraft at all (which did actually happen!):

Howard Heyer describes how the anticolonial attitudes encountered in England continued in the Middle East when he is posted to RAF Kabrit near the Suez Canal:

At Kabrit, the Station Commander lived in a “sumptuous two storey permanent house”. The officers were all billeted in nice wooden houses next to the Officers’ Mess but the sergeants lived elsewhere, in the desert, sleeping on straw mattresses in tents outside the camp. The single shower was just a pipe with no showerhead and the water was heated by the sunshine. The food wasn’t very good either with the buns at Christmas dinner containing not caraway seeds but weevils, regarded by the rather cynical diners as a valuable source of protein. Here is the author, in the middle of the crew of five:

When the time came for introductions, the commander of the base, Squadron Leader B, singled the two Canadians out from the rest and said:

“I see that two of you are Canadians. I’ll tell you right now that if we have any trouble with you, it’s the high jump for both of you.”

Howard is flying combat missions at such long range that they need to land their aircraft at airstrips in the desert both on the way to the target and on the way back. That doesn’t prevent the station commander, who doesn’t fly in combat, stopping his car as he drives past Howard and telling him off for having a button which is not shined properly. Such attitudes eventually lead to a mutiny.

On January 29th 1942, Squadron Leader B had a notice put up ordering:

“All aircrew are to report, properly dressed, to the Station Warrant Officer’s Office at 1300 hours”.

Every member of aircrew had already “been on Ops” in the previous week and in some cases, the night before:

In such cases, men are supposed to have a whole day’s rest with no reporting anywhere. The fact that the Station Warrant Officer has the nickname, “Louie the Rat”, probably sums up the attitude of the 50 men who assembled. He told them to draw rifles for rifle drill. They told him that sergeants only carry side arms so they don’t do rifle drill. Louie then gave them the message from Squadron Leader B that the men were all slack and they all needed smartening up.

At the first command of “Order Arms”, an Australian gentleman told Louie a convenient place to stick his rifle and threw his gun to the floor. He was immediately placed under close arrest and marched off to the Guard Room followed by 50 or so angry sergeants of all nationalities who demanded to be placed under close arrest as well.

And the account goes on from there for another couple of pages. Again, something I have never heard of before, and, like the Cranwell Riot, unknown to Google as well. The book does have a good summary of the situation though, one which could have been applied to a good many RAF bomber squadrons during this period…

“…a long period of minor abuse and lack of caring, a condition of “negative leadership.”

And what’s “negative leadership”?

Well, it can perhaps be summed up in the words of the officer who welcomed the crews to RAF Marham, right at the beginning of the book…

“Well chaps, the glamour period is over. Casualties in this command have been high, and they are on the rise as we make more and more flights further into Germany. I must tell you then that many of you will not be with us a few weeks or a month from now. Good luck to you all.”

Unbelievably, this officer was outdone by the Squadron Medical Officer:

“I hope it doesn’t happen to any of you, but in the event that you find yourself trapped in a burning aircraft with no chance of escape, best to get things over with in a hurry. Lean directly over the flames, open your mouth and inhale strongly. The fire should scorch the lungs and cause almost instant death, much preferable to burning slowly. Well good luck chaps.”

The Bomber Command men, all volunteers, of course, and a huge proportion of them from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, still got on those planes and did their jobs, often at the expense of their lives. The book concludes on a more positive note:

“I have never considered myself a brave man. But I was put into the company of brave men, and I could not very well have let them down.
I don’t believe I did.”

And my overall verdict? It’s a book very well worth a look especially if you can pick up a copy with a bit of history!

One final point I would like to make is that I had a minor operation on my hand recently and for that reason I will not be able to reply to any of your comments in the immediate future. If you do want to make a comment, by all means please do so, but I will not be able to write any replies until after December 6th as a minimum. After this date, with luck, I should be back in business.

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, History, Politics

The Mosquito at Hendon (1)

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Amos.”

“Amos, who?”

“A Mosquito.”

Terrible, but according to my Dad, a genuine RAF joke from World War II. Well, I suppose they had to do something while they waited for colour television to be invented:

Of all the exciting aircraft of World War Two, the De Havilland Mosquito is perhaps the most exciting. This amazing aeroplane really was the result of thinking outside the box.

Give it powerful engines. Make it more or less entirely out of wood. It will be so fast that no enemy fighter will be able to catch it. It will be one of the few bombers of any era which was regularly unarmed. No surprise that it was nicknamed “The Wooden Wonder”:

And so it came to pass, although the Mosquito could not escape the rule which says that every fast aircraft ever built always has its speed reduced by being forced to carry something extra under its wings.

The very first Mosquitos made their début in May 1942 as daylight bombers. After that, they found work with the Pathfinder Force and performed many other tasks within Bomber Command.

The Mosquito was a great success as a night fighter and an intruder aircraft, as well as an anti-shipping strike aircraft. They were used for photographic reconnaissance at both low and high level by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force. Some Mosquitoes managed a huge number of missions, as their casualty rate was less than 0.5%.

We went to RAF Hendon in July 2010 and of course, they have a Mosquito there. According to their maze of a website, I eventually found out that TJ138 is a bomber variant, the Mosquito B 35, capable of a maximum speed of 422 mph and a cruising speed of 276 mph. I think only an Me262 jet would be able to catch that.

The B35 was the final mark of this amazing aircraft and it made its first test flight on March 12th 1945. This particular B35 was built in 1945 at Hatfield as part of a contract for 80 aircraft. It was never used in combat and indeed went into storage at No.27 MU Shawbury, Shropshire as early as August 28th 1945, with another period in storage from May 20th 1948. In October 1950, it was sent to Celle in West Germany with 98 Squadron, which means that TJ138 is the only Mosquito still in existence which actually served with a squadron. In 1953 it was converted into a target tug and eventually finished up flying THUM flights. A lovely acronym which means “Temperature and Humidity Flight”.

And to finish the first instalment, here’s a picture of this very Mosquito, TJ138, waiting patiently to go off on some more THUM flights:

One final point I would like to make is that I had a minor operation on my hand recently and for that reason I will not be able to reply to any of your comments in the immediate future. If you do want to make a comment, by all means please do so, but I will not be able to write any replies until after December 6th as a minimum. After this date, with luck, I should be back in business.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, History

In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command (1)

I haven’t written a book review before, but last week I was quite struck by this particular book, entitled “In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command” written by Howard Hewer. It is by no means a new book. My copy was published in 2000 and I bought a used copy from Abebooks. It was from a bookseller in Toledo, Ohio and the book had been a Library Copy from Greater Victoria Public Library at 735 Broughton St, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 3H2, Canada.

With used library books, especially foreign ones, I always spend time wondering where the book has been, who borrowed it, what their lives were like and so on. I was most intrigued to find a till receipt still inside, detailing the book’s being taken out at precisely 10.41 am on June 16th 2001. Who read it? Did they enjoy it? And most exciting, did they get it back to the library on time by June 30th?

The book tells the story of a young Canadian who joins up and then spends the war in the RAF, mainly in Europe and the Middle East. He is in Bomber Command where casualties, of course, were enormous. There are, really, any number of such books. Some are written to be exciting, some to be poignant and some as detailed historical records. This one is a little bit different and tells the story from the point of view of a Canadian:

I just did not realise that the British would drag innocent young blokes half a world away from their homes to do their fighting and then insult them for their pains…

“We encountered the ‘colonial label’ usually with some snide remark. We grew restive and increasingly rebellious.”

Their reactions were pretty easy-going though, compared to one group. The Aussies:

“erupted in a near riot and refused to appear on parade or in class…Things reached a climax one day in the mess hall. This day the food was particularly inedible and one Aussie grabbed his plate and flung it against the wall just as an RAF air commodore walked through the door…this was not an isolated incident”.

Indeed, he speaks of the Canadian involvement in the “Cranwell Riot”, calmed only by the intervention of Canadian diplomats and Canadian officers. This may be what is being referred to in “The Cream of the Crop: Canadian Aircrew 1939-1945” by Allan D English (page 120) but I haven’t read that book yet. I could find nothing about the episode on the Internet.

We visited Cranwell in May 2010. It was a dull rainy day but here is the main building:

The gates are typical architecture of the time:

They are decorated with the superb badge of the RAF:

I read a lot about the RAF in World War Two but this book presents so much that is new to me. One intriguing footnote tells of the author’s neighbour in 1995 who told him of a fairly amazing incident. The Irish, always pretty anti-English at that time, were supposedly allowing U-boats to refuel in Cork Harbour, so, in late 1942 or early 1943, the RAF sent a force of 8 Blenheims to bomb the harbour “most bombs purposely landing in the bay.”

Well, I’ve never heard this before, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Some 20,000 Irishmen from the Republic were in the British forces, but there were a good few who were very sinister in their activities. In his book, “Clouds of Fear”, Roger Hall alleges that more than one RAF flyer was killed by Irish parachute packers who deliberately sabotaged their parachutes. The men murdered this way included a young man from the High School but that is, as they say, a story for another day.

Bombing Cork, even Blenheims would have been safe from the Irish Air Corps, who used Lysanders:

And the Fairey Battle:

Going back to Howard Hewer’s book, when he was posted to the Middle East, I was really surprised to hear for the first time, of the practice in North Africa of bombing targets which were so far away that the aircraft had to refuel both on the way there and on the way back. The book discusses the conditions at these stopover sites “situated on dried up salt lakes…We carried our bomb load from base, and had to land fully and lethally loaded…we slept on the floor of the aircraft in winter, under the wings during the summer months…we were not issued with sleeping bags…” Presumably, the advent of B-24 Liberators would have helped to phase out these stopovers which were unavoidable with the Wellingtons:

The Liberator had a much better range. Here is one of the first that the RAF received:

Next time, I’ll carry on with Howard Hewer’s adventures in Egypt. There are many more stories about the RAF officers that I had never heard, but they all have that ring of truth.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, History, Literature, Politics

Wolves (the animal not the football club)

When I wrote about the Beast of Gévaudan, I came to the conclusion that the ferocious creature was a previously unknown type of wolf:

bete-du-gevaudanzzzzzzz

For some unknown reason, it was being forced westwards from its normal habitat of the Polish or Russian primeval forests such as Białowieża. If ancient bison could live there, so could something even more prehistoric:

rejigged bison

At the time I did research the likelihood that the Beast was an ordinary wolf or wolves but I rejected that as a theory because I did not think that wolves would eat human beings.
It would be dishonest, however, not to make it patently clear that in the past, wolves certainly have eaten people but they don’t seem to now. Why should this be?
Firstly, extremes of weather centuries ago, more severe than what we have now, may have lead to a situation where wolves either ate any available prey items or just died. This would account for the Wolves of Paris which I have previously discussed:

wolf bounding

In actual fact they may also have acquired a taste for human flesh by eating corpses. Apparently, until as late as 1820, corpses in France were frequently thrown into open charnel pits. Presumably, these were paupers, drunks, stillborn babies, in short, anybody dead without the money for a funeral. And it is not outrageous to presume that this lovely way to dispose of the late dearly departed might have taken place in neighbouring countries too. An unfortunate situation that taught wolves to associate the scent of Man with a full belly.
If the hungry wolf wanted a better quality of prime human meat, young, and blood drippingly fresh, the best place was the battlefield straight after the battle. Once the local peasantry had stripped the bodies of everything valuable, they were not buried, but were gradually eaten by the ravens and other corvids, the eagles, both golden and especially white-tailed, and most of all, the local wolf pack.
This association of human flesh, its scent and taste, with a full stomach, was a recipe for disaster when wolves came across, say, lone travellers or children picking berries deep in the woods. And don’t forget. In France the peasantry were forbidden to own firearms to reduce the admittedly tiny risk of a blood spattering revolution.
Nowadays, the situation is completely different. Admittedly France had 7,600 fatal attacks by wolves between 1200–1900 but there has been nothing since. Italy has a population of wolves but without any fatal attacks on humans since 1945 and no attacks by wolves since the eradication of rabies in the 1960s.

wolf pack one

In the Baltic states, where rabies is still allowed to exist, just under a hundred people were bitten between 1992-2000 in Latvia and Lithuania, although the statistics are muddied somewhat in Estonia by the locals’ love for wolf-dog hybrids and keeping wolves captive on their properties.
And what about North America?

wolf baby

Well, in 2002, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stated that there had been no human deaths in North America attributed to wild, healthy wolves since at least 1900. Concerns were caused though, when, on April 26th, 2000, a six year-old boy was attacked by a wolf in Icy Bay, Alaska. He was not killed, but then, on November 8th 2005 the body of Kenton Carnegie was found in northern Saskatchewan. He had died from “injuries consistent with a wolf attack.” The local wolves had apparently lost their fear of him because he fed them regularly.

Kenton_SKxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

To increase the risk, natural food was scarce in the area at the time and four wolves had been feeding on rubbish tips in the previous weeks. They were no longer scared by human activities. On November 4th, two of Kenton’s fellow campers clashed with two extremely aggressive wolves. Zoologists have now said that this was probably an “exploratory attack” just to see how difficult it was to kill a human being. Another perhaps more serious attack was imminent.
On the day of his demise, Kenton ignored warnings from his companions and went for a walk in the woods. It took the Coroners’ jury two years to rule out Black Bear, but their eventual verdict was “Death by Wolf”.

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f
On March 8th 2010, Candice Berner, a thirty two year old special education teacher who had only been in Alaska since the previous August was killed by two, perhaps three, wolves as she jogged along a road outside Chignik Lake. It was late afternoon.

Candice_Berner12

This was the first ever fatal wolf attack in Alaska. David Mech, a senior research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey has studied wolves for more than fifty years. He said:

“There have been about two dozen nonfatal attacks in North America in the past century or so. Most involve wolves that have become habituated to people who have been feeding them at campgrounds, dumps and other sites near wolf habitat.”

Ms Berner was only 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighed just over eight stones (c 112 pounds). David Mech said that her slight, almost childlike build, and the fact that she was running may have attracted the wolves, who, after all, are predators by nature:

“Wolves are very much like dogs in a lot of respects. Things that are running, they have tendency to want to chase them,”

 

DogChasing

Ms Berner was thought to have been listening to music on a headset, but Dr Mech discounted this, as in his experience wolves move so silently that the wind is enough to mask their presence completely.

Whatever you think about wolves, the truth is that the inhabitants of the tiny village of Chignik Lake have lived alongside wild animals since time immemorial:

chig

This one attack has spooked all of the 73 inhabitants of the area, so remote that it can only be reached by aeroplane. The school’s stuffed wolf mascot had been there a good while, but now it has been kicked well into touch. The wolf badge of the school will also have to go if Virginia Aleck, a local woman, gets her way.
She said that everyone felt trapped in the village. None of the surrounding hills were considered safe anymore.  Nobody walked on their own and everybody carried a rifle.
Is this an over-reaction? Or are wolves just a part of living outside the big city? I’ll try to answer that question in a future article.

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Filed under Canada, Cryptozoology, France, History, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature

The Christmas Truce of 1916: my Grandad was there.

When I was a little boy in the late 1950s and 1960s, my Grandad used to mention to me how there had been a Christmas truce with the Germans during his time with the Canadian Army. The most famous truce of all had already taken place at Christmas 1914 of course.

Trucecigarette

Having accessed my Grandad’s war records in later years, I knew that he hadn’t joined the Canadian Army until 1916, far too late for the famous Christmas Truce. I was also aware that he had fought at Vimy Ridge. How did I know that? Well, fifty or more years ago, he had told me so. Here are some Canadians at Vimy Ridge during the battle. Theoretically, my Grandad could be one of them, but I do know that he spent most of his time in the artillery. That was probably why he was so deaf when I knew him :Vimy_Ridge_-_Canadian_machine_gun_crews

And so it all remained a bit of a mystery, until I read in the media that:

“Evidence of a Christmas truce in 1916, previously unknown to historians, has recently come to light. German and Canadian soldiers reached across the battle lines near Vimy Ridge to share Christmas greetings and trade presents.”
In his book Hitler’s First War, Dr Thomas Weber, a historian at the University of Aberdeen had previously recorded various attempts at a Christmas Truce in 1916. None of them, however, were thought to have been successful, Dr Weber’s book explaining that that this wonderful goodwill gesture had been a complete failure. A war diary from Adolf Hitler’s own Brigade reported:
“Attempts at initiating fraternization by the enemy (calling out, raising of hands, etc.) were immediately quashed by the snipers and artillery men who had been ordered in and had stood ready to fire.”

On the Canadian side, the official version of events, which was reported in the diary of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry tells the other half of a very similar, and very pessimistic, story. The Germans had made efforts towards a ceasefire but nobody on the Canadian side had responded to it.
The entire situation changed radically, however, in November 2010, when the historian, Dr Weber, whose great-grandfather fought with the German army during the Great War, travelled to Canada. After a public lecture, he was approached afterwards by a member of the audience whose uncle, Ronald MacKinnon, had been deployed at Vimy Ridge at Christmas, 1916:

_50437465_ronald_mackinnon

Having heard from Dr Weber during the lecture how there had been only an unsuccessful attempt at a truce in 1916, the man had in his possession a letter from Ronald MacKinnon, a 23-year-old soldier from Toronto which proved that both the Canadian and the German soldiers had put down their weapons on Christmas Day and obeyed the phrase from the Gospel, “on earth peace, good will toward men”. Christmas greetings were shouted across no man’s land and presents, just as in 1914, were exchanged between the two sides.
Dr Weber immediately announced, quite rightly, that this letter was a “fantastic find” and offered proof of a hitherto completely unknown Christmas Truce, an impromptu break in the hostilities by German and Canadian troops. The letter also clearly demonstrated that the top brass had made extensive and determined efforts to downplay any Christmas truces subsequent to the first one in 1914. Dr Weber explained that, as officers always had to report significant events to their higher chain of command, they always had a personal interest in downplaying what might be viewed as negative events when they wrote the official version in their war diaries.
Private MacKinnon’s letter home was to his sister who also lived in Toronto, and it certainly does not downplay the significance of what happened on that Christmas Day 99 years ago:

Dearest Sister,
Here we are again as the song says. I had quite a good Xmas considering I was in the front line. Xmas eve was pretty stiff, sentry-go up to the hips in mud of course. I had long rubber boots or waders. We had a truce on Xmas Day and our German friends were quite friendly. They came over to see us and we traded bully beef for cigars. Xmas was “tray bon” which means very good.

mackinnon

Do you ever write to Aunt Minnie in Cleveland? If you do, see if she can give you the address of any of our mother’s relations in England. Aunt Nellie was saying that some of them lived in Grangemouth, which is not far from Fauldhouse. If you could get me their address I would be very pleased to see them when I am in Blighty again.
I am at present in an army school 50 miles behind the line and am likely to be here for a month or so. My address will be the same, No. 3 Coy., PPCLI. I left the trenches on Xmas night. The trenches we are holding at present are very good and things are very quiet.
I have had no Xmas mail yet but I hope to get it all soon. How is Neil getting on in the city? I’ll write to him some of these days. Remember me to all my many friends at home.”

Ronald MacKinnon, like so many soldiers in the Canadian Army, had very strong connections with Great Britain. His father was a Scot from Levenseat, near Fauldhouse in West Lothian. Ronald was to meet his Scottish relatives for the first time while he was engaged in his basic training in Britain, before being sent to the Western Front.
Not long after he wrote his amazing letter back to his sister at home in Toronto, Private MacKinnon was killed at an unknown time between April 9th-10th 1917, during in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a bloody but successful attack up a strategic height of land in the northern French countryside, a great victory often remembered as Canada’s national coming of age. Here is the monument to the brave Canadians. It is at the top of the ridge:

Vimy_Memorialxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Nowadays, you can drive up the ridge effortlessly in a tour bus. There are no Germans around. Nobody shoots at you. Everybody is friends:

P1090648xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ronald is buried in Bois-Carré British Cemetery in Thelus, in the Pas-de-Calais in northern France:

bois thelus zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

For some reason, his parents’ details are not listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
One last postscript is that, according to Dr Weber, Adolf Hitler’s own unit actually faced Canadian troops on Vimy Ridge throughout the period that I have been describing. Ever the sour fanatic, Adolf Hitler, of course, would never have participated in any truce, although as many as half of his fellow soldiers are thought to have done so. The Führer’s views on the previous Truce of 1914 were recorded by one of his fellow soldiers, Heinrich Lugauer, and there is no reason to suppose that he would have changed his ideas in two short years, filled, every moment, with hatred and anger:

“When everyone was talking about the Christmas 1914 fraternization with the Englishmen, Hitler revealed himself to be its bitter opponent. He said, ‘Something like this should not even be up for discussion during wartime.”

What a bitter loner Hitler was. More extreme than his colleagues, who were only too happy to fraternise with the young Canadian lads for a day. What a pity my Grandad didn’t have the chance to shoot the bugger:

hitler-giovane2
Last words should always be positive though: back to Dr Weber:

“The Christmas truce of 1914 involved 100,000 British and German troops on the Western Front in an exchange of gifts and food, to the horror of their commanders. But these displays of common humanity were much more frequent than suggested by official military histories, with evidence of similar festive get-togethers in 1915 and 1916, involving the Bavarian regiments. No doubt there were Christmas truces in 1917.

Soldiers never tried to stop fraternising with their opponents during Christmas.

This puts to rest the long dominant view that the majority of combatants during the Great War were driven by a brutalising and ever-faster spinning cycle of violence.”

I could not have written this article without accessing these websites.

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Filed under Canada, France, History, Personal

Off to the Great War (Part Two)

I wrote about my grandfather, Will Knifton, in a previous blog post:

A1 hard man

When he first joined the Canadian Army in Toronto, he was soon sent across the Atlantic to receive his initial training in England. He started at  Shorncliffe Training Camp in Kent, learning how to be a Canadian soldier from late July 1916 until the end of November. There was a Canadian Training Division at Shorncliffe and I suspect he was stationed there. Will seems to have enjoyed his stay in Kent, the so-called “Garden of England”. I have already shown you some of the post cards he sent to his fiancée, in an article imaginatively entitled “Off to the Great War (Part One)”.

At this time, Will’s fiancée, Fanny Smith, lived with her family in Woodville, a little village in South Derbyshire. Will sent Fanny many postcards. This one is of Sandgate, a little seaside resort in the area. It shows the High Street East:

sandg high st

The message reads:

“Sandgate is about 5 minutes walk from Ross Barracks. Love Will”

five mins ross back xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ross Barracks were themselves part of Shorncliffe Camp.

This next postcard was posted at 10.00 am. on August 4th 1916. It shows the low cliffs in this small village near Shorncliffe Camp and close to Folkestone:

sandgate cliff xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Here is the back of the postcard:

baxk of snadgate c;liff xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The message reads;

baxk of snadgate c;liff eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Once again, Will is able to retain an almost surreal quality in his writing:

“It has been so warm today and we walked 18 miles. Send me lots of news dear. Love to all. Yours Will”

This postcard was franked at 11.00 pm, on August 20th 1916, and had been posted in Folkestone, perhaps after a visit by train to the famous cathedral, only some twenty miles away in Canterbury:

camterbury cathedrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here is the back of the postcard:

back cathedralzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here is the message enlarged:

back cathedra jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj

The message reads, as far as I can decipher it….

 “Sunday 1pm

I didn’t get my pass yesterday so couldn’t see Stacey. (name slightly illegible) May go next week. Trust you are alright. Fondest love, Will ”

This postcard shows the Lees and the Shelter at Folkestone:

folstone colour

The message reads:

“Yours to hand love (?) A letter is coming. I wish I were too. wont be long Fondest love Will”:

back folkstome colour

Here is the message enlarged. This seems to be in his more florid style of handwriting:

back folkstome colour enlarged

 

In retrospect, this next postcard may perhaps seem a little insensitive. Just a few short weeks after being asked to join the blood soaked antics of the Western Front, and due to depart on November 17th for the trenches, Will sent his fiancée a postcard of the large convalescent home in Folkestone. Presumably, the lone soldier on the seat is the only one left after “The Big Push”:

convalaecscnt home

This is the reverse of the card:

back hospitasl

Can you decipher the message, written in best quality pencil?

Here it is enlarged:

back hospitasl wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

And notice too, how the young prototype Canadian, once again, says “I will write you”, rather than the more usual English of “I will write to you”. In actual fact, the message reads……

“I will write you again tonight. Trust you are well. Love to all. Fond love to you. Will”

The postmark of 9.oo pm on September 5th 1916 reveals that Will could not have been convalescing at the hospital, as he had only just arrived in England from Canada on July 25th 1916, and he did not set off to join the Great War until November 17th 1916.

I am fairly sure that this was Will’s last card before he moved on in his Canadian Army career. I suspect that it was sent from Folkestone in Kent, just before Will embarked for France and the Western Front. The reverse, unusually for Will, is blank. Perhaps what faced him in the future was enough to take away his inspiration temporarily:

old sldier channel

The inscription on the front of the card reads:

“Crossing the Channel was quite a thrilling thing. But an old B.E.F. man rather spoiled the trip by swanking without his life belt, and otherwise showing everyone that the entire thing was far from new to him.”

On November 17th, Will left Shorncliffe, Folkestone and Kent to sail for France and the “3rd D.A.C.” He was “taken on strength” with the “3rd D.A.C.” on November 23rd, and could now be considered a fully fledged soldier.

Like many soldiers on the Western Front during the Great War, Will was shot by a German machine gun on at least one occasion. He had two wounds in the legs, and I believe that he may have gone back to Kent to recuperate. The position of his wounds was doubtless because German machine gunners were trained to sweep their guns backwards and forwards close to the ground:

a23_world_war_1_german_machine_gun_1

They were told to try and imitate a man cutting down grass with a scythe:

giphy

Germans, machine guns, bombs, mud, trench foot, sudden death, whatever. Will survived it all:

old age

 

 

 

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